Fall work and the promise of rain

On Saturday, it rained.

It rained and it soaked the earth and it made mud puddles and the kids splashed in them and we all pressed our noses against the screens and windows and held our breath. Hoping it would last.

My dad was in another town, and so I expected a call or a text, wondering how much rain we had so far. I didn’t realize it until this very dry year, when the man called me every time it rained, to see how much we got. Because I have a rain gauge. And he doesn’t.

Never has.

Isn’t that crazy? A rancher in North Dakota without a rain gauge! It’s even crazier when I tell you why. Why?!

Because he’s superstitious. He figures if he buys one, it will never rain again. Kinda like the old “buy a snow blower and it won’t snow” thing.

So he’ll call his brother who’s 3 miles down the road in the summer with a big ol’ rain gauge nailed to a fence post. And then he’ll call me, who’s closer by 2 miles and has a butterfly gauge stuck in my flower pot, flapping in the breeze, and then he’ll compare the two and calculate if he can breathe a sigh of relief or keep worrying.

It seems this inch of rain let him breathe a bit. And I think he needs to thank my husband for the wet forecast, because he started a deck project with a deadline a few days ago, which pretty much guarantees a weather delay.

But we’ll take it, just like we took the rain on Saturday with homemade tomato soup cooking on the stove and a plan to work calves the next morning in the mud, up on a horse as soon as the sun broke over the horizon. We put on layers, long johns and jeans and chaps and sweatshirts and neckerchiefs, gloves and earflap caps.

We could see our breath against the morning light. And as that sun burned the chill off our cheeks and the bare branches of trees that had given up their leaves, we pushed lazy cattle from one pasture, across the cover crop and into the corrals where we sorted and checked and counted and stripped off those carefully plotted layers the way North Dakotans do in the transition of seasons.

This kind of fall work takes a village, and we have a good little group. Two young cowboys from down the road show up with horses, one of our best friends from high school who wouldn’t miss the chance to ride these hills, and my husband and my dad and me. And my little sister, who brings the kids to watch and climb on fences and old haying equipment and helps her tiny daughter push calves through with the pink sorting stick.

And my mom who puts the soup on, makes the Scotcharoos and lays the sandwiches out for the crew so I can stay to help in the corrals a bit longer. Nothing tastes better than warm lunch after work like this. And I like having them all in the house to feed them as a thank you for the help.

This kind of work is good for the soul I think. Hands busy, heart pumping, air in your lungs. It’s precisely why people remain in this lifestyle no matter the practicality of it really.

Despite the lack of vacation days and stability. It’s because the back of a horse in the hills becomes your office space and your church and your therapy and your living and your family and your friendships and it’s all wrapped up out here in the least complicated way so that even when it’s hard, it is worth it.

It’s almost always hard.

But then, if you’re patient enough with the promise, it will rain…

Why I’m moving to the suburbs

And now a true story about what it’s like being me trying to be a ranch hand and a housewife and why I may need to start shopping for khakis and a house in the suburbs.

The scene: Going with my dad on a ride to gather cows. We are in a hurry because every day it gets darker a little earlier. It was 7:30. It gets dark at 8:30… or something like that.

And now me explaining myself: I’ve never been able to keep up with my dad on a horse, and I’m afraid no matter how much help I think I am, I’m quite certain he would be better off without me.

I mean, I could be riding a racehorse. You know, one of those fast buggers that wins the races that racehorses win. It could have countless trophies, made jockeys famous and fans from around the world could be chanting his name. And that horse would take one look at me and decide that running isn’t his thing today.

And neither is trotting for that matter.

Nope. Not until we’re pointing toward the barn anyway. Or cutting a path through the thick trees. Yeah, in the trees he’d find a quick pace.

But Dad? Dad could ride a horse that was halfway to the light at the end of the tunnel and that horse would turn right around to give him his last breath.

So this is what I deal with when we’re in a hurry: Kicking and pushing and working to find a pace on a lazy horse to keep up with Dad as he heads toward the trees, providing me with directions that I cannot hear because he is facing the hills and I am three horse lengths behind him.

I yell, “What?”

And he says something about following a cow through the trail in the trees.

So I do.

Only there isn’t a trail.

So me and my suddenly lightning-fast horse make our own trail through the brush so thick that I lose sight of the cow I’m supposed to be following (and all forms of life and light for that matter).

I hear Dad hollering from what seems like 20 miles away and wonder how he got that far in what I thought has only been 30 seconds (I’m not sure though because I lose all sense of time because I’m focusing on trying to keep both my eyeballs as we duck and weave and through the thick brush).

“Jessss!!!” Dad’s voice echoes through the trees. “Wheeereee youuuuu attt?”

“Uhhhh…” I spit the leaves from my mouth. “Just, uh, cutting a trail here…”

…and bringing with me some souvenirs: sticks in my shirt, leaves down my pants, acorns in my pockets and twigs jammed nicely in the puffs of my ponytail as I emerge on the other side of the brush alone and searching for any sign of the cow I was supposed to keep an eye on.

Ah, never mind, looks like Dad has her through the gate.

I cuss.

I kick my horse to catch up while I work on ridding myself of the vegetation I acquired on my “Blair Witch” journey through the coulee.

I catch up just in time to follow him to the top of a hill, down through another coulee, along the road and into the barnyard where we load up the horses and I wait to make sure Dad’s tractor starts so he can get home and get a bale of hay.

It does not start.

So I drive him and the horses home.

Slowly.

Because I have precious cargo.

And because apparently I like to torture this man who is trying to beat the sun.

And the other man in my life, the one I married, was still at work when I got in from “helping.” So I decided to make him a casserole, only to be asked, three bites into his meal, what I put in this thing.

“Cheese, noodles, hamburger… the regular… why?”

He gets up from his chair, pulls something from his mouth, looks and me and says:

“Because I just bit into a stick.”

If you know of any nice places in the suburbs, give me a call. I’ll be shopping for khakis and looking for a new job.

Like a cat on the screen door

Like a Cat on a Screen Door
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The leaves are changing out here at the ranch at just the right pace — slowly and overnight. I can see them on the other side of my sliding glass door if I look past the kitten climbing up the screen and the other one pooping in my flowerpot.

And inside, the big cat is sleeping on my bed, the pug is chewing on a ballet slipper and my 4-year-old is putting on a fashion show, complete with green eye shadow, pink lipstick and hairstyle changes.

To top it all off, the 3-year-old is serenading us all on the microphone that some idiot mother purchased them for Christmas because for some reason I thought my children’s constant outside voices are not quite loud enough.

I’ve been working on this column for a total of three hours and this is where we’re at, fourth paragraph. No profound thoughts. No beautiful words of encouragement.

No musings on the state of the world, except maybe this is where so many of us are in these crazy times — kitchen table desks we share with Peach the naked baby doll, the sticky puddle of this morning’s pancake breakfast and coffee you won’t finish but will heat up at least 20 times between wiping butts, answering emails, defusing fights and avoiding the news and the line of sight on your second-grader’s Zoom call.

Because you’ve got pandemic hair and someone might care.

Aw, there’s an art to ignoring your children. I think it’s something parents in the ’80s and ’90s had figured out pretty well. I mean, I’m the product of the “go outside and play until we call you for supper” generation.

And that’s what we did. We rode our bikes, obeyed (most of the time) the rule to stay out of the stock dams and the world was our playground. Because we didn’t have an actual playground. Not that we needed one with all of these trees and creeks, outbuildings and forgotten machinery, cow dogs and barn cats climbing up screen doors.

My girls are too little to send outside on their own, but I’ve reached that parenting milestone where they play together in another room and I know as long as they’re loud they’re fine. And as soon as it’s silent, go check. That’s a hack not found in parenting books.

Speaking of, I haven’t heard them for a while… Peace in this house only lasts in five-minute increments.

Anyway, there also isn’t a parenting book on how to raise a kid during a global crisis. Or one on how to stay a stable parent while you fight cancer. Well, maybe there is, but who, in that situation, would have the time or energy to read it?

Just yesterday, I was listening to my 2-year-old playing babies in the living room. She was on the phone with Gramma or another mom, I couldn’t really tell, but whoever it was, she wondered if they were cancer-free.

And then she wondered how Gramma Ginny was and if her toe was feeling better and if maybe we should go get some ice cream when she gets back from her COVID test.

And lately I’ve been wondering if there was something else I should be doing to ensure that we’re raising resilient, compassionate, smart humans when there are so many distractions, when I’m not 100% healthy and especially when at anytime their little worlds can be turned upside-down, something we learned this year can happen at the drop of a hat.

Is it more conversation, a better schedule, more educational material, more structured play and lessons? Are we going to be OK here?

Well, it turns out if we just give them space to play and pretend, and we tune in every once in a while, they’ll let us know. So many of our worries came out of the mouth of little Rosie on a pretend phone call that day. But she was not angry or frantic, but caring. Compassionate. With an ice cream sundae on top.

Parents, mastering the art of ignoring our children is valuable and necessary for so many reasons, but trust me, they’re not ignoring us.

Hang in there, everyone. Hang in there like this dang cat on my screen door.

On the road to recovery

I had an interview this morning with a local news station about my health this week. It’s still weird to be talking as a cancer patient, especially when I thought I would be using this time to perform and promote on behalf of the new album. But as we all know, plans change, you’re not promised tomorrow and I’m nothing if I’m not resilient. I’m happy to share my story if it inspires someone to fight for their health and for the life that they want.

You can watch the piece at the link below:

Watford City recording artist on the road to recovery after cancer diagnosis

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Pre-order a signed copy of the new album, Playing Favorites at jessieveedermusic.com 

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Peace, love and good vibes only,

Jessie ❤️

On the National Cowboy Poetry Stage

Happy Friday everyone! In honor of the sunshine, weekend I thought I’d share a performance of one of my songs on the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering stage earlier this month.

On Sunday I plan to hopefully wrap up the vocal tracks on a new album I’ve been working on that celebrates the music that I grew up singing. It features my dad and all of the songs he brought into my life playing his records and tapes and red guitar. I can’t wait for you to hear it.

So I need to channel this song right now in so many ways to get me through the to-do list and plans, and on to the fun parts. Turn it up. Loud. And get to work.

If you’re looking for where I’m performing this spring and summer, check out my website at jessieveedermusic.com. More dates will be added as CD release shows as the album gets closer to completion. If you want me in your town, give me a call!

Thanks for the love and support! Now pull on your pants girl, and get to work!

A year of work ends at the sale barn

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We sold our calves last week.

With snow on the ground and our warm breath turned to ice in the crisp morning air, we layered up, saddled up and gathered up our herd of Black Angus and Simmental cattle and loaded up the calves to head toward the sale barn in town.

My husband pulled a trailer load out of the ranch while I served the neighbors and family who helped us some of that good ol’ spiceless North Dakota chili and watched one of the bachelors eat at least six or seven apple bars for dessert.

And when they all left, I was suddenly alone in my house for the first time in months, smelling like horsehair and plenty warm because of the long underwear and silk scarf that stayed on through lunch. And I probably should have taken the time to clean up the kitchen and do something domestic-looking after the whirlwind that fall inevitably brings to the ranch, but sale day gives me a bit of nervous energy.

 

Typically we think of it as a whole year of work riding on what the market is doing that day, but for us, even though it’s not our sole source of income, it’s so much more. It’s holding your breath to be given a sign that we are not crazy people. That there might be a future for us in this cattle business somewhere, no matter the slow, steady and cautious pace with which we are pursuing it, working to find our footing as the new generation here.

And so I decided I couldn’t stay at home cooking and cleaning, waiting to hear the numbers — I had to go watch it myself. So I grabbed my young daughters and their tiny pink cowboy hats and we headed toward Dickinson.

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I wasn’t going to bring them. I mean, taking a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old to a smelly, noisy sale barn 60 miles away on a Thursday night during suppertime is really just asking for it, but I felt like we all needed to be there, this year especially.

Because, despite the smell, I love the sale barn. It reminds me of the Carhartt coveralls that I outgrew long before I was willing to hand them down, and being 8 or 9 and sitting shotgun next to my little sister, next to Dad, warming our flushed cheeks in the old Dodge pulling a load of Black Baldy calves through the breaks after an early-morning roundup.

It reminds me of patience in a time with less distraction, of a time when a can of Mountain Dew, a cheeseburger and maybe a Snickers bar at the little cafe there was a big-deal treat and took the sting out of the 45-minute wait in the pickup to unload with nothing but AM radio to cut the boredom.

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And so when I walked my girls into Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange, we wasted no time getting that pop and a burger, feeding my nostalgia while feeding them supper.

 

And when we took those steep steps up to sit on the benches in the ring, I quickly became aware that we were the kind of circus they just might appreciate around there.

“What is going on, Mommy?!” my little Rosie asked in complete wonder, pausing to watch before unloading all the tiny plastic cows, steers, horses and a Mickey Mouse onto the bench to amuse herself.

“We’re selling our calves today!” I told her proudly, which promptly set her big sister off into tears, declaring dramatically that she was going to miss them “so, so much!”

Twenty minutes and three plastic ponies flung at the buyers below us later, our load number was up and our calves began to enter the ring, just as Rosie spilled the entire contents of her pop down my husband’s back.

And just like that, the day we’d been working for all yearlong had come and gone, the scent of cattle on our clothes and plans for the year ahead drowning out the doubts as we chased our headlights and our bedtimes back home through the Badlands.

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On the road: Now and then

A Cafe Somewhere in Montana...

Greetings from a hotel room 100 miles away from the ranch where I just consumed an entire take-out chimichanga dressed in my jammies while sitting on the bed watching some Learning Channel special about weird ways to die.

And then I washed it all down with six or seven pieces of Halloween candy I bought during my solo trip to Target where I was only going to buy deodorant, but somehow, because I had time to kill, wound up with Christmas dresses for my girls and my nieces, a new makeup regime, three bottles of vitamins, envelopes, a new bathroom color scheme, a 37-pound bag of candy, a witch hat, princess underwear, three packages of toddler-sized white socks and a partridge in a pear tree.

This is life on the road, people. Or at least the evening portion of the program.

I know it well. I spend plenty of time here and have since deciding to try my hand at this professional musician gig a million years ago when I was younger and drove a Chevy Lumina with a 10-disk CD changer sound system installed in my trunk and all I needed to get from a Fargo gig one night to a Chicago gig the next morning was a bag of sunflower seeds, an energy drink and my favorite albums on repeat.

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Turns out what I also needed was some change for the toll booths and probably a plan for where I was going to stay the next night, but that was back before you could book a room and find a husband on your smartphone, so yeah, I did a lot more improvising.

It was back in the olden days when you had to use actual maps. And so my Lumina was filled with one of each from North Dakota to Texas and off I would go to make my way through the middle of America to perform, just a girl and a guitar trying to laugh off the requests to play Free Bird during lunch at a tech college.

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Or calm my nerves when I dropped my entire makeup bag under an automatic sink in the public bathroom after getting lost in Minneapolis and running late for my gig opening for a national act.

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And then there was the time I completely chipped the front part of my tooth off on a granola bar on a highway somewhere in Missouri with no hope for a dentist appointment before they were set to put a camera up close to my imperfections at a campus television station.

Yes, in between those gigs where I could be playing to 3 people or 300, I had nothing but the radio and the miles between the familiar and the mystery of the towns that passed by my window. Traveling and touring that extensively solo before I even hit age 21 was a weird mix of vulnerable, free, lonesome, nervous, proud and utter exhaustion. Some days it was hopeful, when the audience was captive and the stories came easy and some days were more “opening the door to my room at the Red Roof Inn and finding strangers sitting on my bed.”

And all these years later, so many things have changed, like the maps and vehicles, but the road hasn’t.

It’s still hoping for an open gas station at midnight when I’m finally heading toward home and I’m starving. It’s still floorboards full of wrappers and water bottles and dealing with the quirks of a car that inevitably acts up, locking me out of the trunk for no apparent reason. It’s movies and suppers alone to kill the time. It’s changing clothes in the car or a public restroom, and putting makeup on in the visor mirror. It’s meeting new people and inevitably forgetting a microphone stand along the way. It’s calling home at night and recapping the day, only now the voices on the other line are noisier and smaller and sweeter and there’s more to miss.

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But I love it out here when I go. I love to see the Main Streets and visit your Cenex stations and your cafes and hear your stories at the end of the night before my tires hit the road again for home or send me out in search of a glamorous hotel bed chimichanga picnic.

Rear View Road

 

A game of cat and mouse and me in my robe at 6 am

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Cat and mouse game isn’t our new cat’s strong suit

Last week while I was writing my column, unfolding a tale from the olden days about my dear grandmother’s run-in with an ornery bovine and an exasperated husband, a saga of my own was developing in my living room between our new orange cat who now has six names and a mouse, who shall never be named.

At first I thought the commotion our new feline was making was just what cats do when they become “possessed” and chase imaginary threats around the house. I continued with my work unconcerned, encouraging the behavior of Sven (one of his names), thinking he was just practicing for the real fight.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the threat — and it was not imaginary. The fight was real, and Reggie (one of his other names) wasn’t winning. The mouse ran under the couch. The Cat (his third name) was now on a stakeout.

But I decided to be in denial for a bit. Tigger (his other name) looked like he had it under control and I had a deadline. I continued typing, one eye on the couch, but I couldn’t concentrate.

I called my husband to give him the report, because I heard husbands like to be informed of impending doom. I was right.

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Sven the cat takes a break after a hard day of work.

I texted my sister. I called the fire department. No, I didn’t really call the fire department.

But I did move the couch because Orange Kitty (his fifth name) needed help. The mouse scampered out toward my bare feet, and though I be tough, I screeched with immediate regret, praying it didn’t wake the kids. Because now the mouse was under my chair and I was neck-deep in a hunt and I hadn’t even finished my coffee yet.

I grabbed the cat and set him by the chair. He didn’t get the hint, but the mouse did, and he ran for his furry life toward the fireplace, huddling there behind the dollhouse. I grabbed Sven (my preferred name for the cat) again and placed his nose right on the stunned mouse. But apparently Sven only likes a challenge, and he turned that nose up and strolled away.

And so there I was, hunkered over, my robe undone, my hair undone, my column undone, my quiet morning undone, trying to teach a cat how to chase a mouse. It wasn’t working.

The mouse retreated behind the kids’ craft cupboard and I tried to pretend nothing was happening. I sat back down. I heard the 1-year-old stir just as I hit “send” on my column and realized that having a mouse and two toddlers roaming free in the house was not the kind of life I wanted to live.

So I got up. The baby cried louder. I grabbed the broom. I sent Sven subliminal messages and we approached that cabinet. I got down on my hands and knees to take a look and the mouse flew out toward my face at lightning speed. And though I be fierce, I screamed.

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The baby cried, I wiped the sweat from my forehead and I muttered some harsh words about our broken cat under my breath — until Sven, glorious Sven, emerged from the abyss of dust and smoke with the mouse in his jaws.

I beamed with pride for about three seconds until he dropped it. And though I be Wonder Woman, I screeched. And the baby cried harder. And the mouse ran back under my chair.

But its time had come. I grabbed the broom and Sven and I went to work as a team of freaked-out hunters, me sweeping, him catching and releasing, leaving toys and furniture, my hair and robe flying behind us until Sven crouched over a stunned mouse in the middle of the living room, the door of my 3-year-old’s bedroom cracked open, the baby couldn’t be left to cry any longer and I mustered my courage to finish the job, flinging the remains out the door and turning around just in time to bid my oldest daughter good morning.

And though I be brave, I never want to do that again. If you need me, I’ll be setting some traps.

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Veeder Ranch to be featured on Born to Explore

Born to Explore

Last summer, Richard, from Born to Explore, a travel show on PBS, came to North Dakota. They stopped by the ranch for a little music, a ride, and an attempt at a dinner conversation with us and our two babies.

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My our collection of grills, unfinished house projects, chaotic kitchen and my North Dakota accent make an appearance, but so does the beautiful landscape, our babies, cows and some music on the porch with dad 🙂 It’s a great snapshot of North Dakota and all the reasons this place means so much to us.

Also, I don’t usually wear dangly earrings when we chase cows…but, you know, TV.

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The episode, North Dakota: Where Legends are Born will premiere on PBS stations on Feb. 23 and have multiple repeat broadcasts throughout the year. Check out the preview here and tune in!

Born to Explore #208(P)/North Dakota: Where Legends are Born preview from Born to Explore on Vimeo.

Thanks Richard and crew for a great visit!

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Her America

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Last summer I took part in a series of interviews for Lifetime’s new series “Her America.”  It’s a digital content series that gives an unapologetic look at real American women today and features interviews with 50 women across 50 states.

Among all of the wonderful women they could have chosen to represent North Dakota, I was honored to be chosen to tell our story.

At the time of the interviews and photographs, I was just entering the the second trimester in my pregnancy with Rosie, not knowing if it was a little girl or little boy I was carrying. How fitting then that we are now proud parents of another North Dakota girl and how wonderful to have documentation of that time in our lives.

Click here to see my story and then explore the other exceptional and interesting women across the country at  heramerica.com.

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