Out of respect for the angels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unexpected free time…

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It’s Monday.

Another busy enough week looms and both Edie and I have been battling a cold for a good week now, because apparently we don’t waste time in getting in on cold and flu season.

We spent the weekend in Bismarck where I had a singing engagement and my mom chased my daughter around the event grounds while dad and I sang, trying to keep her hat on and her little hands occupied.

They had fun, Edie rode a little pony, jumped in the jumpy castles and ate popcorn. I had a meeting there the day before, so we stayed in a hotel and Edie got to go swimming, which is pretty much her favorite thing to do in the world besides singing and twirling around in her dress.

And apparently she’s ready for the belly flop olympics as well…

Oh my gawd, this girl did this like thirty seven thousand times before I finally had to wrestle her out of the pool and calm her down so she could take a breath.

She’s got a lot of get-up-and-go that one. But she comes by it honestly. And lately, as we’ve been exploring this world together, trying to fit in a good amount of work and play into each day, I’ve also been thinking that my other big hope is that I can teach her how to find peace and inspiration in the quiet times. I hope she seeks it out. I hope I can teach her how to properly work, properly play and properly take a breath and relax and enjoy the moment.

I need to stop and remind myself of this important part of this life as well sometimes.

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So that’s what this week’s column is about. It’s about an unexpected unscheduled Saturday and how I chose to use it…

How I spent an unexpected dose of free time 

Apparently when I’m pregnant I can’t help but feel like I’m a ticking time bomb, waddling around counting the days until my world explodes into unmanageable chaos.

So I have a tendency, I’ve learned, to try to manage the heck out of everything in my path in the meantime.

I overbook my work schedule, I annoy my husband with reminders about unfinished house projects, I organize places like bathroom cabinets, I plan house additions and I deep clean the oven, (because apparently deep cleaning the oven is strictly a hormonal thing…)

Yes, my mentality as a pregnant woman is a weird sort of frantic, but after months of running around trying to fit it all in, I think I’m gonna have to call it.

I’m tired.

But I still have a good two and a half months to grow this baby, which, in my brain, should be enough time to finish that entryway addition and get a good start on my novel.

Last weekend my husband left to go hunting in Montana, Edie went to spend a couple nights with my mother-in-law and my Saturday event got cancelled, which left me with an unexpected window of time that I planned to use to clean out my office to make way for the crib and the tiny baby socks.

Blame it on the late night spent singing, or the rainy day, or just plain laziness, but that Saturday I didn’t step foot in that office. Nope.

I was alone in my house in the middle of nowhere for over 24 hours and nobody called and I called nobody.

I didn’t use my voice, I didn’t go outside, I didn’t cook or get dressed and moved only to do a couple loads of laundry and take out some stinky garbage. I read. I ate. I seriously took binge-watching Netflix to the proper level. I took a nap.

And I had to keep reminding myself that it was OK.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I finally had some quiet moments to myself, and I couldn’t help but use it to wonder why the luxury of free, unscheduled time made me feel so anxious. Maybe I’ll just blame it on my workaholic parents who I’ve rarely seen spend an entire Saturday relaxing…

Which I sort of get now. Before becoming a parent, I would have likely spent that Saturday being productive in leisurely and creative ways, like taking a hike in the rain to come up with new ideas, inspiration and motivation.

But that was before I understood how fast you become accustomed to taking care of the constant needs of young children, and how it becomes embedded so deep into the muscles of your body you forget how to be alone with both your hands free and a mind with a quiet space to wander again.

Which I probably should have done. I should have let my mind wander. But I was too busy having zero inspiration, feet up, hair up, counting baby kicks between bites of popcorn and reminding myself to enjoy it because it’s all gonna hit the fan again soon enough…

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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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A moment in the plans we’ve made

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This week’s column is a little reflection triggered by branding day at the ranch a few weekends back.

It really is something to take a breath in the middle of this crazy life and realize that the crazy was actually your intention and what you’re doing is a little piece of a dream coming true.

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Oh, and for those of you who don’t reside in Western North Dakota, a slushburger is a sloppy joe.

Thanks for all the words of encouragement. In six months or so I’ll be calling you at 3 am wondering what we were thinking.

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Coming Home: Taking time to appreciate moments as ranch, family expands

I rushed to get the slushburger in the slow cooker, the chip dip layered and the watermelon cut and mixed with the cantaloupe from the fridge. It was 7:30 a.m., and one of our friends was already sitting at the counter with a cup of coffee, boots and hat waiting in the entry. He’s more of a cattle expert, but it turns out he had some tips on cantaloupe slicing before heading out the door with my husband to gather gear and saddle horses.

The neighbors would be here in an hour or so to help ride, and I had to get Edie and my niece dressed and down the road to gramma’s with the burger, melon and grocery bags full of paper plates and potato chips so I could climb on a horse of my own.

It was branding day at the ranch, and the sun was quickly warming up the world as I finally made it to the barnyard, buckling my belt as I ran past the neighbors and the guys already saddled and waiting to take off over the green hills together, splitting off at the corrals up top to gather cattle in the corners, search the brush and trees and meet up at the flat to take them home.

It’s one of the best views in my world, to see the cowboys and cowgirls you trust most riding together on our land, connected by generations, friendships and blood, dedicating a Sunday to getting a familiar and time-honored job done. I loped my horse across the flat to catch up and watched a trail of black and red animals form a jagged line across the crick and up the road, kicking up dust and bellaring to their babies as our crew gently coaxed them along.

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My husband and I have dreamed about the days we could figure out a way to own our own cattle out here, a goal we began to realize last winter with the help and partnership of my dad. We branded a handful of our own calves last year and worked this year to crunch numbers and build plans. And it’s been scary, exciting and challenging to say the least, balancing full time work and family while helping to take care of this place and the animals on it.

But last Sunday we sorted and doctored those animals together while the neighbor kids sipped juice boxes and waved sorting sticks outside the fence, my grandparents sat watching in the shade, my sisters standing together, my little sister arching her back against the weight of her pregnancy while my mom and aunt opened the door of the car to let out my fresh-from-her nap daughter, and I willed myself to take a moment to appreciate that I could stretch out my arms and nearly touch all of the most important things in this world to us.

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And then I reached down to loosen the belt on my jeans that are growing tighter each day as my belly swells with the newest member of the crew, due to arrive in December to these grateful arms.

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If we listen as much as we speak

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Because isn’t this what we try to teach our children?

In these heated times, listen as much as you speak
by Jessie Veeder
2-5-17
Forum Communications

Last weekend we slowed down our typical agenda and spent some much-needed time with our good friends. Because we both live in rural North Dakota, we thought it would be fun to meet in the big town to do some shopping, eat out and take our babies swimming in the hotel pool.

My friend and her husband have a son who turns one soon and in the years prior to the arrival of our long-awaited children, we would spend hours on the phone together discussing doctors appointments, crying over losses and wondering why it was so hard for us and so easy for others.

These days, much to our delight, we talk about car seat choices and sleep schedules and how working from home and taking care of a toddler is the hardest and most wonderful gig we’ve had so far.

When we finally get a chance to get together, we hardly take a breath. Our husbands shake their heads and change the diapers and connect on what it’s like to be working daddies married to emotionally charged women.

So much of what we’re going through at this moment is the same — same demographic, same type of rural existence, same stage in motherhood, same small-business goals — but (and I think I can speak for my friend here) there are still experiences and pieces of our lives that don’t fully translate.

There are personal situations and feelings that we may never truly absorb or comprehend about one another, no matter how much we have in common or how much we adore each other.

And that’s ok.

“Be careful not to assume your experiences are the experiences of others.”

This statement appeared to me somewhere tucked inside the political back and forth that has become our lives in America these days. For some reason it really spoke to me as a line that somehow sums up what I’ve been feeling in a neat little package tucked in my pocket just waiting and ready to be disputed at any given time.

I’m not sure if I’m going to explain it properly here, but since becoming a mother it feels like every nerve I possess is exposed, every emotion so volatile. I see children in a different way now. I see them attached to mothers like me who felt them kick inside their bodies and welcomed them in the early mornings or long dark nights to worry and pain and then wails of relief.

I see those children, no matter the race, religion or distance across the ocean, and I see Edie.

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I see their mothers, by birth or by adoption, by choice or by chance, and I see myself.

And then I wonder if they walk on this earth the way I do, so aware of how each decision made holds their babies so fully in their wake.

But that’s where the shared experience begins and ends. Because I might just be naive enough to think that loving a child the way a good mother loves her child is, in so many ways, universal.

What if I couldn’t give Edie a decent meal? What if the home I planned to raise her in was invaded or destroyed? What if she woke up with a fever or fell and broke her arm and I had to calculate and sacrifice our tight budget to afford a trip to the emergency room?

What if the only chance I thought we might have at surviving this life was to load up my one-year-old on a raft and float across the sea with nothing certain but uncertainty at the shore?

What would I do?

There are mothers in this world making choices like these while I sit in a hotel room drinking wine and playing cards with my best friend, our babies sleeping safe and sound beside us.

It’s not lost on me in these trying times, in a world seemingly teetering on the edge, that our opinions can be thrown around, but dear friends, they won’t go as far as the compassion we might find in stories we hear.

If we listen as much as we speak, we just might be reminded that we are nothing but the lucky ones.

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Home-Construction Role Models

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I spent the weekend across the state singing, doing my best to pay tribute to the great Johnny Cash at a concert on Saturday and then playing music in one of my favorite bars with some of my favorite musicians that evening.

It was the first time I’ve been away for the weekend without the baby and/or my husband. Usually the babe gets to come along and we leave Husband in the dust to work on the house or the ranch for the weekend. Poor guy, he never gets to have any fun.

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But this weekend I left them both home. My mother-in-law came over to hang out with Edie while my husband and his dad worked on trying to finish up the basement.

This is our life. It has been for years, trying to fit in home construction on the little 48-hour space that we call the weekend. I spent the previous weekend going as far up the ladder as my comfort zone would allow to put stain on the house and kicking the five-years-ago versions of ourselves for thinking it would be a good idea to build a 30 foot house with cedar siding that needs to be re-stained every few years.

That was dumb. Especially when half of us hate heights and the other half has no fear and leans out too far once he’s at the top of 30 foot ladders.

So, to survive, I’ve learned there are things I just can’t watch.

And so here’s this week’s column, written after a weekend spent outside on ladders and in town at the hardware store and in bed late at night realizing that my life will forever be in a constant state of construction.

So if you want good advice, don’t ask us. We had every idea of what we were getting into, and we did it anyway.

Coming Home: The height of a ladder gives couple perspective
by Jessie Veeder
11-6-16
Forum Communications
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“When you get married, marry someone with money,” he said to our 13-year-old niece, sitting innocently at the kitchen counter, holding the baby and feeding her Cheerios. “Or just be rich yourself. That would be better.”

“Yeah, she’s right,” he said. “Be rich. Or marry someone nice and rich.”

This is the advice we give when you bring your children to our home. I’m not proud of it, but it came to us after a weekend spent trying to make progress on this not-ever-going-to-be-finished house we decided to construct ourselves almost four years ago. And, because we’re hosting a Thanksgiving/first birthday party here in less than a month, we need to get that basement finished, you know, the one that was supposed to be done a year before the 1-year-old was born.

So my husband spent the weekend standing on a ladder mudding the sheetrock on the walls, my niece worked to save the baby from climbing the staircase and eating box elder bugs while I spent my weekend outside on a much taller ladder trying to put stain on the house before winter and cursing the idiots who decided to side a 30-foot house with cedar that needs to be refinished every three years.

Because I hate ladders. And heights. And my husband hates projects like this, but he also hates hiring anyone to do a job we can do ourselves, especially when we’d like to have money in that bank at the end of it all. Because I figure by the time Edie’s 18, her college tuition will likely be approximately a million dollars a year, so we better start cutting back where we can.

Ramen noodles for everyone!

“In my next life, I’m not going to be a ‘DYIer.’ I’m going to be a ‘Hire Someone Elser,’ ” he said while he stood at the top of that ladder trying to reach heights I was unwilling to attempt, maneuvering a stain sprayer while his wife suffered anxiety-induced heart palpitations looking up at him with a white-knuckle death grip on his ladder, wanting desperately to believe that the tightness of my grip was directly related to the likelihood of him falling to his death.

“I should have married you in your next life!” I hollered up to him. “Now careful! Seriously, don’t lean so far over like that, my gawd, I can’t watch this!”

And so, given the weekend’s events, you can see where we were coming from with the money advice. Because while it’s not often people like to admit that money buys happiness, I can tell you with complete certainty that I would have been a lot happier watching a paid professional work a spray gun 30 feet in the air. And I know I would have been happier with the finished product.

Because at least it would be finished.

But it’s not. Nope. We ran out of house stain, daylight and weekend, and if you come over for the party, you’ll likely come in to a half-stained house and an almost-finished-basement, which may or may not have carpet because we did what we could and called it all good enough.

But we’ll have so many people crammed into this little house you won’t be able to see the floor anyway, so in the big picture, I guess it’s a blip.

Like my niece said as she walked the aisles of Menards with me in search of more Sheetrock mud, “What would this family do together if we didn’t do work together?”

“Go fishing.” That was the first answer that came to my mind. But how much real marital bonding can you accomplish on a beautiful lake? Certainly not as much as you get when you’re praying for his life as he extends beyond his comfortable reach 30 feet from the hard, cold ground.

It sure makes you love each other more when you’re back on solid earth, realizing you’re both alive to see another day.

So, yeah, if you want to spend your weekends catching walleye in the summer sun, make sure one of you has some money. But if you want death-defying, love-igniting, budget-friendly adventure, well then, we’re your role models.

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Passing the Halloween torch

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It’s Halloween. And true to my nature I stayed up late last night gluing Edie’s gumball  machine costume together and cursing myself for waiting until the last minute, because, EEEK! I ran out of little pom-poms and I live a good hour and a half from the nearest 24 hour Walmart.

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Why couldn’t I just order her a costume from Amazon.com for crying out loud?

Why? Because it looked like an adorable and easy idea a month ago when I found it.

And I think I like to make stuff. Even if I procrastinate the shit out of the process.

Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays because of those two things, because I rarely make plan until the last minute and apparently I like the thrill of creativity under pressure.

Some of my best work has come a good hour or two before our last minute plan to attend a Halloween party.

White Trash.

Bacon and Eggs/Before and After

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But it’s been a few years since we’ve hit up a bender of a Halloween party. Last year I could have gone as a blimp and I wouldn’t have needed a costume.

This year I spent the weekend obsessing over staining the house. And in case you’re wondering, it didn’t go well. I mean, #1:  Who in their right minds designs a house that needs to be re-stained every few years? And #2: Who makes that house so tall even their tallest ladder can’t reach the top?

It’s a Halloween worthy nightmare that will last our entire lives. (Or at least until we make enough money to buy ourselves out of DIYing…)

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This is the short side of the house, so who needs a ladder?  I call it Redneck Renovation (Innovation?)

Anyway, I’ve never spent a Halloween with our baby, so I’m planning on doing what we can do for the holiday with an almost-one-year-old. I’ll find mom’s witch hat and we’ll head to town this afternoon to hang in her store and hand out candy. Then I’ll make the rounds, say hi to some neighbors, show her off and likely, spend most of my time putting the bubble gum hat back on her head.

Don’t worry, they’ll be pictures tomorrow, you know you can count on it:)

Oh, and if you don’t yet, follow me on Instagram for photos on life out here.

And because this baby and my Halloween crafting project makes me nostalgic, here’s this week’s column on the memories I have of trick-or-treating along the country roads.

Coming Home: Princess of the frozen tundra passes the Halloween torch
by Jessie Veeder
10-30-16
Forum Communications

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I was a princess once.

It was a long time ago in a faraway, mysterious frozen tundra called North Dakota. I was beautiful. My crown was made of glittery pipe cleaner, my dress a hand-me-down from my fair mother, shoulder pads for dramatic effect, taken in at the waist with 37 safety pins, and it swept (drug) on the ground ever-so elegantly, collecting fallen leaves, dirty snow and candy wrappers the way every magnificent princess ballgown should.

I addressed my kingdom in a short, 1990s camcorder clip featuring a stunning and dramatic speech littered with impediments because I was a princess who couldn’t quite say my “R’s” correctly. And before I headed out the door to survey my territory, I pulled on my baby blue, puffy winter coat and well-worn snow boots, even though I fully intended on a mink shawl and glass slippers, because it was Halloween in North Dakota, and when it comes to parents, there are some arguments even a princess can’t win.

Yes, I was a princess once.

And then I was a clown in a hand-me-down, red and white, homemade zip-up suit and hat, complete with rosy cheeks.

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And once I was Pippi Longstocking, and I made my braids stick straight out and wore my dad’s lace-up work boots. And long ago, I was a ghost with spiders in my hair, then an old woman in a lace dress taken from my great-grandmother,

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and an alien with neon-green hair and a tinsel dress that my mom wore in a 1970s production of “The Wizard of Oz” in which she played the Tin Man.

Yes, ’tis the season for goblins and mermaids and 7,000 Ninja Turtles and “Frozen” characters to start gearing up for an evening of a make-believe parade down city sidewalks and doing the things that children do on a holiday that was invented to keep us young and full of imagination.

But my Halloween memories don’t include those sidewalks, because we didn’t have many on the miles of gravel roads connecting us to our “next-door neighbors.” Our trick-or-treating rituals looked more like dressing up in homemade costumes my best friend and I had been planning and perfecting for weeks, standing in front of dad’s deer horns hanging on the wall to pose for a photo next to my little sister who was dressed as a pumpkin and then piling into the minivan with the neighbor girls while our dads drove us through the 10-mile loop so we could unload and load up again at all seven houses.

One year my best friend went as a picnic table, to-scale and complete with at least two table settings, so you can about imagine how that car ride went.

But we didn’t care; you could have piled six more kids in that minivan, and we would have never wished for a sidewalk or streetlights. We were convinced us country kids had the best Halloweens. Because at that time, we were some of the few, we were special, and our neighbors were expecting us. So at each of those seven or so houses, we loaded up on handfuls of candy, treat bags complete with pencils or pinwheels, full-sized candy bars, bags of popcorn and a chance to take our time, show off some tricks and model our costumes, strutting and showing off what we worked so hard to put together.

And at the end of it all, we all we unloaded at the final house, dragging pieces of our costumes behind us, disheveled and tired and ready to dump our pillowcases full of treats on the carpet to sort through while our parents visited in the kitchen.

Today, in my kitchen, the supplies for Edie’s Halloween costume sit in a box on my countertop, and I just realized the torch has been officially passed as I turn from back-seat princess to minivan driver. But my friend up the road has four kids, so if we want to ride together like we did in the old days, we might need to see where we can get a small bus … especially if anyone plans on going as a picnic table this year.

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Making Memories. Making Pies.

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It’s a beautiful morning at the ranch, the wind is calm and the golden trees are sparkling in the sun, the baby is napping, the windows are open and I’m so happy to be home after six days on the music road.

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I’ve designated this day to unpacking and putting away all that was drug out in the name of traveling across the state with a ten-month old and my mother…which means we most definitely brought home way more than we left home with…

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Like maybe a few more outfits. And at least one new pair of shoes for each of us.

And maybe a giraffe suit for Little Sister?

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We sure have a fun and exhausting time when we’re out traipsing around the countryside. But we don’t get much napping in. And we don’t stick to a bedtime. And we try to cram as much fun as we can in between the gigs.

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Mini Merch Slinger

So we’re tired.

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I predict Edie will take the rest of the week to catch up on all of the extra time she spent kicking and clapping and singing along with her eyes wide open until the bitter end of the day when we plopped down together on the hotel bed, or the bed in my grandparent’s house, or the bed of our gracious hosts, and finally gave into the night.

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Sound check…

I’m contemplating crawling into her crib with her right now and the two of us could stay there all day. If only we both fit.

But not until I share this week’s column with you, a little story about the best part of this season change, which is most certainly more time in the kitchen with family reminiscing and making new, sweet flavored memories.

And I may be no Martha Stewart, as you all know, but this was my biggest attempt yet, getting as close as this non-pastry-making-family can get to pie perfection, thanks to the notes left behind from our grandma Edie…and maybe a little encouraging from above.

Happy season change. May the cooler weather inspire you to cuddle up and settle down a bit. I know that’s my goal this upcoming October anyway.

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Coming Home: Connecting with gramma’s memory over a slice of apple pie
by Jessie Veeder
9-25-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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My mom keeps a small wooden box in her kitchen, tucked up in the cupboard next to her collection of cookbooks. On the front it reads “RECIPES” in the shaky, wood-burning technique of a young boy trying his hand at carpentry.

And the from-scratch buns she served with supper.

And the familiar casseroles that you could smell cooking as you walked up toward the tiny brown house from the barnyard after a ride on a cool fall evening.

Every once in awhile my mom will open that box on a search for a memory tied to our taste buds. She’ll sort through the small file of faded handwriting and index cards until she finds it, setting it on the counter while she gathers ingredients, measures stirs and puts the dish together the best way she remembers.

I’m thinking about it now because it’s sitting on my kitchen table, the one that used to sit in my grandmother’s kitchen all those years ago acting as a surface to roll out dough and pie crusts or a place to serve countless birthday cakes or her famous April Fool’s day coffee filter pancakes.

And so they’ve met again, that table and that box, which is currently sitting next to a pie pan covered in tinfoil.

Because last week we pulled the box out on a mission for guidance on what to do with the 50,000 pounds of apples my little sister inherited from the tree in the backyard of the house she bought a few years back.

“Maybe we should make applesauce or apple crisp,” we said as Little Sister plopped the fourth bag full of fruit on my kitchen counter, my mom sipping coffee and my big sister entertaining my nephew beside her.

I reached up in the cupboards to dust off a couple recipe books because we all agreed then that apples this nice deserve to be in a pie, and Googling “pie making” seemed too impersonal for such an heirloom-type task.

Then Mom remembered the recipe box.

And that Gramma Edie used to make the best apple pies.

It was a memory that was intimately hers and vaguely her daughters’. We were too young to remember the cinnamon spice or the sweetness of the apples or the way she would make extra crust to bake into pieces and sprinkle with sugar when the pies were done, but our mother did.

And most certainly so did our dad.

So we dove into the recipe with the unreasonable confidence of amateurs and spent the afternoon in my kitchen, peeling apples, bouncing the baby and rolling and re-rolling out gramma’s paradoxically named “No Fail Pie Crust,” laughing and cheering a victory cheer as we finally successfully transferred it to the top of the pie using four hands and three spatulas, certain this wasn’t our grandmother’s technique.

Wondering how she might have done it.

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Little Sister carved a heart in the top to make it look more presentable. We put the pie in the oven, set the timer and hoped for the best.

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We fed the baby and gave her a bath. We watched my nephew demonstrate his ninja moves. We talked and poured a drink. We cleared the counter for supper. We put the baby to bed.

And then we pulled the pie from the oven. We marveled at our work. We decided it looked beautiful, that we might declare it a huge success, but first we should see what Dad thinks.

So we dished him up a piece. It crumbled into a pile on his plate, not pie shaped at all. But he closed his eyes and took a bite and declared it just the right amount of cinnamon, the apples not too hard, the crust like he remembered, not pretty but good.

We served ourselves and ate up around that old table. We thought of our grandma, wondered if she might have given us a little help and put the recipe back in the box right next to her memory and the new one we made.

And we closed the lid.

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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.

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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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When the mist lifts off the doubt of motherhood

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Coming Home: Mist lifts off the doubt new mom feels
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

It’s morning. The mist has settled in the valleys of this countryside like a heavy, cool blanket that promises to dissolve in the sun. Dad just sent me a photo from the hayfield, a canvas of pink, gold and green poking up from the fog as he bales up the grass and alfalfa nice and tight for the winter.

I didn’t know that about motherhood. I didn’t realize how fragmented and scattered a day can become, a little paradoxical considering 100 percent of that day is dedicated to keeping a tiny person content and alive.

The other 90 percent is spent bending over to pick stuff up.

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Which leaves no time left for math and just a few slivers here and there to get work done. Or wash a dish. Or take care of the gray roots coming from my 3-month-old dye job.

And this is where I am now. Looking for the balance in being a work-from-home mom, quickly realizing that the word “balance” should not have been invented, because it does not exist, not in the way we all dream it anyway.

Last week I had a performance in a small town in the middle of the week. My husband has been arriving home from his full-time job in the evening to help Dad get the hay crop put up between rain storms and broken down equipment, so I loaded up the baby, my niece and my guitar in the big pickup, leaving his evening free for work, because turns out dads are searching for that balance-myth, too.

I stood up there behind that microphone and in front of a small crowd that gathered for hamburgers and music on a Wednesday night, telling stories and singing songs while my niece tried to shush our baby who was babbling and screeching happily in her arms. I looked over at her while I sang words written long before she was born and was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that this is my life now.

And then, in between songs, I found myself explaining the fear I had about it all.

Because, if you remember, I had a lot of time—time to convince myself I was ready, and time, when it didn’t work out, to talk myself out of the whole motherhood thing entirely.

Because I was worried about that balance thing. I was worried I couldn’t be me and be a mom, too. I was worried I wouldn’t have the energy for music or writing or bigger aspirations should I feel so motivated.

And in a way I was right. I am not who I was before this child became mine. Because before her I didn’t know what it meant to be frazzled and content at the same time.

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Like in the two hours I’ve been working on this piece I’ve changed her diaper, gotten her dressed, fed her milk, snuggled her, kissed her, watched her play, fed her avocados, snuggled her again, changed her again and put her down to play while working sentence by sentence and wishing I would have woken up at 5 a.m. like I planned last night.

I likely won’t finish this until she goes down for her mid-morning nap.

Before the baby, leaving something undone would have driven me crazy. These days most things are left to be finished later. I didn’t know I could be fine with that.

And there are about a million more examples like that, most of them involving the common denominator named time. Because I’m no longer carefree with it, not in the way that I was before Edie.

To be away from her better be worth it.

Sometimes it is.

And sometimes the best part is taking her along, looking out into the crowd and seeing her there, fitting snug and happy in the life that I built, arms outstretched, head turned up and laughing, the mist lifting off the doubt, revealing more colors than I could have dreamed.

 

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