Lessons in life and heartbreak on the ranch

I started this piece last week as an introduction and recap of the latest spring storm. Since then we’ve been on the warm up, watching the snow drifts turn the ground to mud and exposing some green grass. And we’ve added another bottle baby, a twin, to our mix, putting us up to a total of 4, one for each little girl to feed if we can all get out there together. It looks like this week we’ll see 70 degree temperatures for a few days, and everyone’s spirits are lifted by that. Uncle Wade headed back to Texas and the girls are in their final month of school for the year and we have summer on our minds. I’m headed off to visit a few schools this week with the book “Prairie Princess” so I’ll be seeing some of the state thaw out and green up before my eyes and whenever I get a chance I’ll be on those hilltops, checking again, for crocuses, and probably collecting a few ticks.

Lessons in heartbreak on the ranch
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As I write this, the sun is shining after another really tough weekend of weather. As you read, we are likely getting more of the forecast moisture, but by now we’re all familiar with the storm that rolled into western North Dakota that started with rain, turned to ice and then into over a foot of more snow blowing sideways in up to 65 mph gusts throughout last Saturday and into Sunday afternoon.

This one was just as hard or harder on our herd because, No. 1, wet and freezing weather is tough on livestock, especially newborn calves. No. 2, we are full-on calving now, and No. 3, we lost power on Saturday, April 23, around 3:30 p.m. and didn’t get it back until around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. As I write this, some in our county are still waiting for the lights to come back on. And it all felt a little spooky, honestly.

On Saturday afternoon, right before we lost power, the guys pulled four soaked, shaking and newborn calves in from the storm to try to save them and our entryway turned into a bovine nursery, complete with all four little girls helping to dry them, warm them and get them to eat if we could.

My sister, Alex, sat with the newest calf on her lap, scrubbing him with towels, drying him and asking him to hang in there. But after our last-ditch effort of pumping him full of electrolytes, he didn’t make it another 20 minutes. The girls were heartbroken and so we sat on the steps together, working it out with them, wiping little tears, worried that he might not be the only one in our entryway with such a fate.

My sister and I hang on to memories like this one of being kids during calving season. The excitement of bringing the calves inside always held with it a bit of anxiety knowing that they were there with us because something wasn’t going right. So that’s the lesson I tried to give the girls, that nature can be cruel, and we’re here to be caretakers, doing the best we can. But sometimes there’s nothing more we can do.

And so we move on to the next thing we can do. I don’t think they’re too young right now to learn about life and death and how to care for helpless things. It’s not too early to learn how fragile it all can be and what a big job it is to be responsible for these animals.

I don’t want to be dramatic, but my sister and I cried a bit about that calf, too. We were hoping for a victory, but it was a tough day to be born. So we focused our attention on tiny No. 4, the one the girls named Strawberry, who wouldn’t stand up or take a drink. The next morning, after a fair amount of patience, I finally got her to drink an entire bottle. This morning, she was bawling for it and I got my victory there. Funny how you can be so proud of a calf. And so the guys loaded all three of those baby bovines into the back seat of the pickup to graduate them to the barn — and that right there is why everything we own out here is covered in poop and slobber in the spring.

This week, the guys are counting the calves and keeping close watch, making sure they all get paired up with the cows who get mixed up during stressful times like this. When we woke up on Sunday morning, all four of my family members tucked in our big bed to stay warm, we were a little unsure of what we’d find down in the trees where the cattle hung out for protection on layer upon layer of hay. But these cattle are tough, and so are their babies, and as soon as the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds, there were calves running and bucking and perking right up. I couldn’t believe it.

Baby Calf Kevin tucked in safe and sound

Nature is cruel, but instinct and being bred for hardiness plays a part in the equation, and those two things didn’t disappoint us in our herd. Neither did the natural protection of the trees and valleys and all of the family around us helping take care.

Fresh new baby on greening grass

This one will be in the record books. Some neighbors in other corners of the county were literally digging cows and calves out of snowbanks where they were stuck standing. And there’s so much to reflect on, and so many lessons my husband and I have learned about how we could be better prepared for next time. And so we put that in our pockets and in our plans and keep digging out, more thankful for the sunshine than ever.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Under these snowbanks is green grass, and this, I think, has become a metaphor for almost every hard time in my life. The rainbow after the rain. I believe it always comes, sometimes naturally and in its own time. Sometimes you have to just buy yourself an ice cream cone and make that count. Either way, I hope you’re all finding your silver lining. Stay warm out there. Chin up. If you need us, we’ll be mixing giant calf bottles and heading to the barn…

Listen to this week’s column with commentary in my first attempt at a podcast

Ok folks, I’m trying something new. I’ve decided to record each week’s column with a bit of commentary in a weekly podcast format. This first attempt is a bit rough as I just wanted to see what it was all about, but I think it could be a nice option for readers to be listeners. My plan is to incorporate more discussion on each week’s topic and to hopefully include some of my family, friends and maybe you in the conversation. Oh, and there will be music too.

Hang with me as I work through this, but I think it’s going to be fun!
Click here to listen on Spotify
Or search “Meanwhile, back at the ranch” on Apple Podcasts

The Promise of a Greener Summer Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

This week it's all about the rain and the rain and the rain. After a long dry spell in Western North Dakota, the sky broke the silence and dropped almost five inches in a few days, filling the dams, cricks, and our hope. Jessie reflects on the stories we tell and the memories we revisit when the sky opens up. Catch her original song, Raining, at the end of the episode and download it at jessieveedermusic.com or wherever you get your music.  More at veederranch.com — Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/veederranch/support
  1. The Promise of a Greener Summer
  2. A Slice of Rural Life at the Local Cenex
  3. Lessons in life and heartbreak on the ranch

Spring cleaning gives time to reflect

My sister’s husband is working on building a chicken coop today and so my niece, Ada, spent our ride to town telling me how many chickens she’s going to get.

Sounds like hundreds. And I’m thrilled for them. Because it means that I don’t have to get chickens ever in my life. It’s kinda like the boat thing, you know, the only thing better than having a boat is having a best friend with a boat. That’s what I think about chickens. Eggs for days and no poop to scoop. I’ll save us all the cartons.

Building something like a chicken coop is a typical spring task at the ranch. The sun warms the ground and we’re ready to head outside to thaw out all of those ideas we conjured up while eating carbs and pulling our beanies down over our ears. But it also means cleaning. Oh, the cleaning. I’m always amazed by the amount of mud, random screws, mismatched gloves, beanies, boots, neckerchiefs, and, because my husband’s a carpenter, random electrical wires, plumbing parts, tools and hardware store receipts that accumulate in our entryway over the winter. I spent all morning Sunday trying to arrange it all so I could mop. And by the time I got to the mopping part, the kids had come in and out of that door 37 times, dragging more mud and dolls and winter clothes and random twigs with them.

My daughters were busy driving their kids to Hawaii in the little hand-me-down electric car that always gets stuck in the scoria halfway up the driveway. And the disagreement about who’s turn it is to push and whose turn it is to drive derails the game for a spell, although it does make it a bit more realistic. Adulting comes with all sorts of obstacles and predicaments. Like making the choice between spring cleaning and pouring a Sunday margarita….

Most of the time, I chose both. I’ve always been good at multitasking.

Anyway, the mess here is endless, between the ranch and the garage and the house and the yard, I’m fully committed to the idea that I’ll never catch up. And I know I’m not alone in it overwhelming me sometimes. If I dedicated every minute of my waking life to trying to control it, I still don’t believe I’d fully dig us out. Because, we just go on living, don’t we? Do the dishes and your husband comes in to make a sandwich. Clear the kitchen table of Play Dough to turn around to the kids making Barbie Doll phones out of tin foil and puffy paint. Get to the bottom of the laundry hamper and you’re still wearing clothes, aren’t you? Fix the fence and watch a bull jump right through it. Living’s messy. It requires lots of chores…

Last weekend my husband was also committed to clearing some clutter, so we were, as we usually are on the weekends, busy bopping around the place to see what tasks we can get checked off the list. This leaves the kids within earshot, but to their own devices, with a few tattle tale moments, skinned knees or request to help push the blue car out of the ditch sprinkled in. I stood in the driveway procrastinating sorting 1,000 gloves and watched as my daughters pretended to be mothers riding their bikes and changing diapers and, as I said, making plans to head to Hawaii.

And then I had a flashback of when they were smaller, just a few short years ago, at age 1 and 3, then 2 and 4, when my children required so much more out of me in the entertainment department—to peek-a-boo, to pour the paint, to rattle the rattle or build the blocks.

Now look at them, they’re in the sweet spot of sisterhood and childhood and play, immersed together in a world of their own creation. Rosie stopped her bike/car and her eyes caught mine, “Mooommmmaaa, you can go now! You don’t need to watch…”

And so this is the phase we’re in. Maybe I’ll get a duck or something and add it to my sister’s coop. It seems, with my kids in Hawaii, I might need something new to fuss over this summer, because I’m already sick of cleaning…

To get away, and be glad to be back…

It was spring break and so we let loose two little pale-as-our-snow Northern prairie girls in Florida. They swam with dolphins, caught a lizard, came face to face with a couple of sea otters, snorkeled and rode a roller coaster and jumped in the backyard pool approximately 3 million times, which is about equal to the amount of times they yelled, “Watch this!”

And so we watched. We, the parents who clearly overpacked, realizing our two little girls had no intentions of ever removing their swimming suits. And so we had to drag them out of that pool every night for the entire seven-day vacation, wondering if fingers can be eternally pruned. Or as Edie used to say, “sprinkly.”

We got back to the ranch and woke up to the official first day of spring. Which doesn’t really mean that it’s going to feel like spring around here, except now we can leave the house in the light and come home in the light and therefore we can see the light at the end of the winter tunnel. And that’s why Northerners need places like Florida. So much so that in the mix of a bazillion people at SeaWorld, Rosie spotted one of her preschool friends.

And then, the next day, we ran into folks from a neighboring town and so Disney is right, it’s a small world after all. Especially when all the frozen people are planning to head south at the same time.

What a blessing it is to get away for a bit. This vacation was one that was supposed to kick off, quite literally, the day the world shut down in 2020. It was a gift from my husband’s family, the kind that has aunts, cousins, sisters, brothers, grandkids and Gramma and Grandpa scheduling time to live in a house together for a week and do nothing but the fun things. Who would have thought that it would take two entire years to actually get us there? The last time we did something like this as an entire family, my daughters were just a dream and my now-teenage nieces and nephew were much shorter, much younger and found me less embarrassing.

Which I proved wasn’t such an unreasonable sentiment when I took that nephew along to help me deliver our leftover boxes of beer and soda to the neighbors at 11 p.m. the night before we left our Airbnb because I “would just hate to see it go to waste.”

Those neighbors opened the door slowly to a woman in PJs and humidity hair and they looked as cautious and confused as they should have been and suddenly I became overly aware of my nerdy North Dakotan accent. I’ve never felt more Midwestern in my life, except for moments later when the poor woman finally took the boxes and began to close the door and I couldn’t stop myself from popping my head in to elaborate: “There’s just a few beers, some pop, I mean soda, and a juice box or two, you gotta dig for those, sorry… you know, we heard you back in the pool and thought you might put it to use. Hate to see it go to waste! Enjoy! Enjoy your vacation!” Because when in doubt, just keep talking. That seems to be my motto. Lord help me.

My nephew couldn’t get out of there fast enough. He literally ran himself into our glass patio door and we both laughed harder than we ever have together. He said it was his favorite memory of Florida, beating the dolphins and his shark-fishing excursion, me embarrassing myself.

And isn’t that how it goes if you do it right? My dad asked Rosie, my 4-year-old, what was her favorite part of the vacation and she said it was swimming in the backyard pool and staying in the same house as all her cousins and her Nana and Papa. No dolphin jump or roller coaster ride or new princess outfit complete with a sword beats any of that, the actual time spent. Sometimes we just need a few plane rides and a four-hour wait in the rental car pickup line to get us there.

And now we’re home. And it’s spring. And soon the calves will be born and the crocuses will bloom and my daughters will be riding their bikes on the lone piece of pavement on the ranch, fingers fully dried out and “unsprinkled.” To be gone long enough to miss it. To be away in paradise and be glad to be back, well, what a gift. What a blessing.

Homemade Halloween

Happy Day after Halloween everyone! How’s your blood sugar level? I’m feeling the need to check in on you all after a Halloween that lasted three whole days. Are you upright? Did the kids make it?

This week’s column is a reflection on my Homemade Halloweens, and this year we carried on the tradition successfully, although I was a little nervous when I wrote the column that my five-year-old was going to reject the homemade and head toward her rack of princess dresses. But alas, she proved that she has a soft and gooey center and dressed up as Bluey, the star of her little sister’s favorite show, making Rosie’s dreams come true and her momma proud and thankful that I didn’t get out the glue gun for nothing.

So here’s the thing about having Halloween officially land on a Sunday–not only does it make for a three day celebration, it means that I had a whole day and a half to thoroughly obsess over my Trunk-or-Treat display. Because when I was a kid, Trunk-or-Treat didn’t exist. But oh, it exists now and I. Am. Here. For. It.

So the girls and I spent Saturday night and Sunday morning turning the back of my car into a campsite. We painted signs and mountains, brought up the sleeping bags and Teepee and old time lantern, took out the fishing poles, gathered sticks and cut up paper to make a fake fire and fully and completely destroyed our kitchen in the process. And then we loaded it all up to head down the road to figure out how to coordinate our Bluey Family costumes with our winter gear. Because weather’s never really stopped North Dakotan’s from doing our best to celebrate something. And so we celebrated, in 70-some degree weather on Friday on Main Street and 30-some degree weather on Sunday handing out candy from my lawn chair and “fishing hole.” the fishing hole.

The girls and I went all out on our Trunk or Treat Theme this year. My kitchen is covered in paint and crafting supplies, and I had to take a half-hour shower to thaw out from sitting in 30-some degree weather handing out the chocolate, but it was worth it.

I hope you all enjoyed this fun holiday the way you prefer to enjoy it–eating all the candy, entering the costume contest, playing tricks on the neighborhood kids, or shutting the lights off and hiding out–because if there was ever a holiday that screams “you do you” it’s All Hallow’s Eve.

Ok, here’s this week’s column.

Another Homemade Halloween

If you don’t watch Bluey with your kids, you should. An adorable Aussie show featuring a family of Heelers. They have two little girls, Blue and Bingo, and two little girl cousins, Muffin and Socks, and I feel like it’s our life on the ranch as a cartoon.

By the time you read this, I will have successfully consumed all of the chewy SweeTarts, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Milk Duds I purchased for Halloween, proving yet again that I can’t be trusted to buy any candy early, unless I somehow hide it from myself, which would mean I won’t find it until they clean my house to move me into the nursing home.

By the time you read this, I will have hot-glued some felt to a couple bright sweatshirts (and added puffy paint just for fun) in an attempt to create a costume you can’t find in stores, only to learn that my oldest would now rather be Elena, Princess of Avalor than Bluey, a cartoon blue heeler puppy made out of a hoodie.

I’m not sure I have enough hot glue sticks, felt or glitter in the house to construct a full-on ballgown, not that I won’t try. Edie’s too young to understand that I will, indeed, try.

Because her father and I come from a long line of “make your own costume” people. Walmart wasn’t just down the street, you know. Oh, and money didn’t grow on trees then either. And uphill both ways, and all that stuff that will send my daughters’ eyeballs rolling.

Anyway, did anyone else’s mom stuff you in one of those pumpkin leaf bags, paint your face green and call it a costume? How about a princess in one of her old bridesmaid’s dresses with a pipe cleaner crown? No.

Halloween in the early 90s. My little sister as a garbage bag pumpkin and me as an old lady in my grandma’s dress.

Well, then there was always the one clown suit our grandma made that we could get from the cousins down in South Dakota who wore it last year, trying to decide if it’s best to wear the snowsuit over or under the baggy striped and polka-dotted jumper. Then we all crammed in the neighbors’ pickup with the tiny seat in the back and covered the 15-mile radius from neighbor to neighbor to neighbor, stripping off our beanies, coats, mittens and snowpants to reveal our characters and sit and have a cup of hot chocolate or a cookie before heading to the next house.

Trying to incorporate my broken leg into my costume

I was a full-blown adult before I ever dressed in a store-bought costume — I was a deviled egg, and I borrowed it from my little sister. We still have it if you want to borrow it, too, along with some wigs, a couple witch hats and a child’s flamingo costume we acquired along the way.

Me and my husband, as full grown adults…in homemade costumes…

We love Halloween around here, but it’s such a different time. Since my oldest daughter was born, we’ve collected enough princess, mermaid, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, cheerleader and ballerina costumes, complete with the plastic high heels, crowns and capes to play dress-up or trick or treat every day for a month.

But when Halloween comes knocking on our door, I get that old familiar urge to construct something. One year, I hot-glued hundreds of colorful puffballs on a beanie and made 11-month-old Edie into a gumball machine.

The next year I ordered as much harvest-colored tulle I could find and spent two days making a giant tutu for a cute little scarecrow and my daughter took one look at it and cried. Apparently it wasn’t pink and sparkly enough for the 2-year-old.

Recycling the idea on Rosie a few years later

But that didn’t stop me from whipping out that glue gun the next year to create an epic mermaid crown out of old costume necklaces and beach shells and turning a little sweat suit into a flounder fish for baby Rosie. Because I have to glue while I can! I knew that the days of my daughters appreciating my homemade efforts were going to be short-lived.

I didn’t know that the timeline would be so short. Apparently almost 6 is when your daughter turns to you out of the blue and asks you, very frankly, to not embarrass her.

And I’m not sure what qualifies as embarrassing to a 6-year-old, but apparently I’ve done it. A few times actually.

If you need me, I’ll be drowning my sorrows in Reese’s and bedazzling something.

Blue Buttes and the backdrop of childhood

There are sets of buttes that frame the landscape of our ranch. When you’re turning off the highway and coming down toward home, or when you find yourself on the top of a hill, searching for cows, or the dogs, or the other riders who are supposed to be with you, if you look north, as far as the eye can see, there they stand — the Blue Buttes — the backdrop to this little painting we live in here at the Veeder Ranch.

Every time I look at them, I’m reminded of a story that my dad told me about a drawing he colored of a cowboy on a mountain during a project in elementary school. He used his crayons to make the man’s hat brown, his shirt yellow, the sky blue and the mountain he was riding along purple.

When the teacher asked, “Why did you paint the mountain purple? Mountains aren’t purple!” my young dad said he felt embarrassed and confused. He didn’t think he was wrong. The only encounter he had up to that point with anything resembling a mountain was the Blue Buttes that waved to him from about 7 miles north. And they sure looked purple to him.

Oh my heart.

This week my oldest daughter, Edie, will start her first day of kindergarten. It’s a milestone she’s more than ready for, but I can’t stop kissing her cheeks and looking at her wondering how this happened. Wasn’t I just measuring her milestones in weeks and months? And now here we are staring down an entirely new chapter and all I can do is reminisce with her about how I used to rock her to sleep every night by pacing the floor.

Oh, I’m not ready. Like, in denial, putting off school shopping, not ready.

Recently we took Edie to the big hospital to get her tonsils taken out and while they were in there, they took her wiggly front tooth, too. (A fun surprise for all of us when she came off of anesthesia.) So if she didn’t look like a kindergartener before, she certainly does now.

So very soon, off she’ll go into a world that, day after day, will teach her things, so many things, she didn’t know before. Like, maybe, that the Blue Buttes aren’t actually blue or purple. And that 5+5 is 10 and 10X10 is 100 and then maybe the lines in a Shakespeare play and the periodic table and, too soon, that the Tooth Fairy is actually her mother, scrounging up cash, writing notes and sneaking into her room at night.

Right now my daughter is full of magic and innocence, collecting toads with her little sister in her ballet costume, drawing flowers with faces, playing dolls, hoarding special rocks, pumping her legs on the swing and believing that maybe unicorns exist somewhere. She’s also arguing with me about brushing her hair, choosing outfits that don’t match but make her “feel like herself,” and reminding me that every day of parenthood, if you’re doing it right, is a day closer to letting them go where they need to go.

But for now I’m soaking in the fact that, for now, where my girls need to go is outside to see if we can find some more toads. And can they please wear their princess dresses and bring their dolls in their strollers?

And then after that they might find themselves in the trees, following the secret path up to the top of the hill to check on the sunflowers, the wind tangling up their already messy hair. And if they look north, as far as the eye can see, they will find those buttes, purple and blue as can be, the backdrop of their childhood that I hope will never lose its magic, even in memory…

The ranch and the weather

Hoping for the weather to cooperate
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Last Friday a grass fire began to rage up north near our neighbors’ house. I had planned to have our Arizona-turned-North Dakota friends over to help feed the bottle baby calf, pet the horses and make them a proper Tater Tot hotdish.

They were coming over at 5, and my husband left to fight a fire at 1. I asked him, stupidly, as he was rushing out the door, “Do you think you’ll be home by 5?” And of course, he replied, “I hope so!”

And I hoped so too. Not just because I wanted him home in time for hotdish and friend-hosting, but because it would mean that they would have that fire under control by then.

The face of a fireman

On Saturday, the wind died down and the sun shone so bright that my oldest daughter couldn’t help but strip off her shirt and play in the dirt left waiting for the spring petunias in our flowerpots. I sat my husband down on a stool on the deck, he pulled his shirt off as well and I started to clip and buzz and cut the winter hair that had grown long on his head, shedding another layer as we moved slowly into a new season that was feeling so different than all the springs before it. Crocuses and muddy puddles, plum blossoms and new grass blades evaporated by a sky that just won’t give up the moisture.

That afternoon, looking a little less like a mountain man, my husband went out to check the cows and found a tiny calf, just barely over 30 pounds, left trying to get milk off her sick mother. He scooped her up in his arms and brought her down to the barnyard where I was brushing out horses and the girls were taking turns seeing how high they could climb the corral panels before they became too scared to jump off.

The tiniest calf we’ve ever seen

I just helped Rosie up on Tootsie and was watching the fluffy, old, partially blind mini horse wander around the barnyard with my youngest on board, when my husband arrived with a calf the size of a small goat — and just like that, the ponies were old news. The girls squealed and sprung to action with pets and snuggles, concerned looks, bottle-holding and more questions about calf poop and umbilical cords turned to belly buttons.

Little Mommies

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Chad and I quietly hoped that poor little baby and her mom might make it through the night and told the girls to be careful now. Not so high. Why don’t you come down and help get these calves some fresh hay to lie on?

With my niece, the animal whisperer

The next day we woke up to rain, just enough to coat the ground and make us dare hope for more. We mixed up three big bottles for the two calves and the girls dug for their rain jackets and rushed out the door to dance in it. “Rain!” they hollered. “It’s raining!” And they twirled and ran and jumped and danced as if there was no way to contain themselves. As if, in their tiny little bones, they understood what a miracle it was.

If I wasn’t holding three big ‘ol calf bottles with a mission to finally get to the barn after two pancake refills, a hair-brushing argument, a hunt for the right mittens, two boot changes, two coat changes and a trip back for a snack for the way, I might have danced, too. And alongside the road on our way to the barn, the baby calves kicked up their heels, running and bucking and playing just like my daughters, thrilled for the drops on their backs.

We tucked our girls in that night too late and we both fell asleep beside them while our muddy boots worked on drying off in the entryway, our cattle bedded down in the draws and the rain quietly turning to snow to pile up to 3 inches on our thirsty land.

And so on Sunday, we dug out the snow pants, caps and mittens, fed a little more hay and found another stray calf, maybe the twin to the tiny one we’re still fussing over. And hoping for… just like I hoped, on Friday, when the land was burning up, that my husband might be home in time for supper…

Ode to a Kitchen Table

One set of markers. And then another.
Some in their boxes, some without covers.
Two lined notebooks, spiral bound.

An orange water cup. A princess crown.
One egg carton for some creation,
Forgot now what sparked such imagination.
A small sticky puddle of chocolate ice cream.

Some glitter, some glue sticks, a five-year-old’s dream.
And somewhere in pencil is Rosie Gene’s scrawl.
There’s a splash of nail polish, a race car, a doll.

A pile of sweet tarts left stacked from Monday.
Ten-thousand hair bands. A unicorn. Clay.
And underneath, on the floor, I don’t want to look,
half a cookie, a puppy, squished Play Dough. A book.

When the supper bell rings, you’d think, if you’re able
You could serve your fried chicken at the kitchen table
But able we’re not, because, well, we have kids
and it seems that our table has turned into this.

A surface for projects and dreaming and snacks,
and paper for drawings, stacks upon stacks.
I’d clear it away, some days I insist,
then others I simply just let it exist.

As an ode to these times that quickly pass by.
Oh, the mess we can clean, but the clock won’t unwind.
I know it is true, I remember the time
when our table was set up simply to dine

and make up to-do lists, eat cinnamon toast
or romantic spaghetti or a Tuesday night roast.
I remember the quiet, the slow conversation
about long weekend plans, or gasp, a vacation.

But now if we’re lucky, two words pass between us
overtop of tall tales and loud songs and screeches.
And this table, it listens, it hears all these things,
the “Please sit on your butt” and “Listen to me!”

And the “What’s been your favorite part of the day?”
Or, “I love it when you make the hot dish this way.”
Oh, I can’t help but think it’d like to talk too,
to say maybe go easy on the paint and the glue.

Or to comment on how fast they want to grow up
from bottles to sippies to pink big girl cups.
To thank goodness for sponges and quality soaps
and for all of the prayers it heard as we spoke.

Because here among colors and the half-squeezed juice box,
the pipe-cleaner bracelets and collection of rocks,
if you sweep past the crumbs and the coffee cup rings
you’ll find a spot at the table, a front seat to our dreams.

On donuts and grandparents

On donuts and grandparents
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My dad has a funny story he tells about when he was a little boy living over the hill from his grandpa Eddie. Eddie, a widower since his mid thirties, made the best homemade donuts, fried and cakey like the ones we get at the local Lutheran church fundraiser ever year. I always buy an extra dozen or so thinking I’ll freeze them for special occasions, but they never make it to the freezer…

Anyway, my dad was about six or so and was sent over the hill to get a fresh made batch his grandpa promised to his family. So off he marched on a well-worn path between the places. He probably lingered at his grandpa’s for a bit, where he was treated to one or two with milk for his good deed, and then he was off to meander back home, back over that hill, swinging the bag around his head, slapping it against his legs and maybe a rock or two for good measure because it’s fun, and then back and forth across his body until he arrived home with his treats: a dozen perfectly fresh donuts completely annihilated to nothing but crumbs.

I love this story because it gives me a little glimpse into my dad’s relationship with his grandpa on this place during a time in a kids’ life when grandparents are particularly magical, freely sharing knowledge, laughter, pushup pops and in possession of a candy drawer within a child’s reach.

I also like the one where Dad and Uncle Wade ran over to grandpa Eddie’s without declaring their intentions. They were likely missing for a little too long, and so when Grandpa Eddie saw their mother marching over the hill, well, he did what any grandpa would do. He calmly said, “You boys better get home now” and sent them by short cut, so the boys would successfully beat their mother home without crossing her path along the way.

Having grandparents nearby is a special gift that I’m so grateful we’re able to give our children. I had it in some form or another growing up myself and I hold the memories of after school snacks, homemade bubbles, popsicles on the porch and card games of Skippo and Uno in the whimsical and comforting parts of my memory box. There was no one else who thought we were as special or funny or talented or charming. No one else as willing to have us sit around their kitchen tables and tell our long winded stories, or clap as enthusiastically for our saxophone concerts, spontaneous interpretive dances and living room plays.

On the porch with grandma Edie

And no one else would actually stop the car when my little sister yelled that her imaginary friend, Becky, had her hand stuck in the door.

Oh, good grandparents are pretty special. Any day now I’m expecting one of my girls to pack her suitcase and head down the road, running away from her mean mom to someone who truly cares (and who will let her have a cookie for breakfast, lunch and supper.) 

I think my little sister was around three, Rosie’s age, when our grandma Edie found her dragging the giant red Samsonite down the scoria road, running away from the ‘witch’ that was her mother.

Grandparents, simultaneously saving our children while saving us.

Babysitter falls through on Wednesdays? Call Nana. She’ll bring over a project and fold the laundry. Want to join the curling club? Grandma and Papa will take the kids for that evening once a week. Need reassurance that you’re not screwing them up? Papa will tell you they’re perfectly normal and then get after you for thinking otherwise.

Need someone to remind you that a little dirt won’t kill them? Just look to your own mother. She has proof. I mean, you’re still here after all.

No, I can’t imagine getting through parenthood without these wonderful humans, but more than that, it’s magical watching my daughters live out their grandparent sweet spot. I just wouldn’t trust them with the donuts quite yet.

Every kid needs a tire swing

Every kid needs a tire swing
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We used to have a tire swing tied to the branch of a scrappy and tall oak tree that reached out over the steep banks of the small creek that runs through the ranch.

Mom could see it from the window above the kitchen sink, hanging on the other side of the fence that separated our mowed yard from the horse pasture that us kids regarded as the wilderness. When we could get a push or two from Dad between the work and the worry, there was nothing in the world that felt more like flying.

But mostly my little sister, or the neighbor girl and I, would take our turns on our way to the beaver dam to check on the frog population or to pull logs up over leaning trees to make secret forts and pretend we were living as grown ups in another time.

Even when I was just a kid, I thought that every kid should have a tire swing. The only thing that would have made it better was if we could let go to be dropped in the water on a hot day, the way I saw them do it on the country music videos. But the only time the water was high enough was in the years the snow turned to water fast and furious enough under an unexpectedly warm March day when we still wouldn’t dare put away our knit caps and coveralls, let alone strip down and jump in.

It didn’t matter to us, though — we were happy with any formation we could come up with that would make a big push out across the steep bank a little more dangerous — standing on the top, one-handed, no-handed, doubles, triples, a fast spin from your friend, a pullback and running leap on your own… and on and on until we were called inside or got distracted with another idea for how to make our own fun.

Remember those days? When time stretched out in front of us like a newly discovered trail, curiously winding instead of urgently ticking down on wristwatches and cellphones, screaming at us to hurry, reminding us there isn’t enough…

This fall, my husband spent several days behind the wheel of the backhoe, clearing out a tangle of fallen trees and underbrush to build a bigger driveway in front of the house, leaving behind a tall oak, gnarly and mangled, to stand magnificently on his own right outside our door. I always liked this tree, the way the twists of its branches told a story of perseverance, the way its trunk consumed ancient remnants of barbed wire, its bark determined enough to grow over the scars, revealing the secrets of a tree with a purpose beyond growing and shading and shedding its leaves.

But clearing the brush and weeds away really showed it off, ominous against a gray sky, inviting in the sun. Magical no matter what. It seemed both me and the tree loved the new landscaping plan.

But we weren’t the only ones. As soon as the dust cleared, my dad came over with a rope swing for the grandkids, and just like that the old man of a tree had a new purpose.

I watched my girls spin and squeal with their cousins under the shade of that oak. As the leaves cut loose in the breeze and spiraled to the earth around us, I laughed as I remembered the break of the rope all those years ago, and my little sister marching up to the house, tears in her eyes, to deliver the news (and request a trip to the hospital because the wind that got knocked out of her convinced her of internal damage).

And while my little sister was just fine, it was a big dramatic last trip on that swing. I was a teenager then and I realized it had probably been years since I had my last turn. I remember feeling a little sad about that…

We’re all grown-up now and so much has changed, so many things missed, pushed aside as memories we visit when we need them.

But I’m comforted knowing time hasn’t changed our minds. We all still agree every kid needs a tire swing, and a big push that feels like flying…

Ranch mom problems

Ranch mom problems
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There have been many moments in my life when my “ruralness” has shown up in all its glory.

Last week, for example, when my 2-year-old daughter dropped her pants in the middle of the playground in town and proceeded to pee in the sand while I was on the phone trying to be a professional working remotely.

Well, professionalism went out the window pretty quickly when I screeched into the phone and then promptly confessed to my colleague that my kids haven’t been off the ranch much lately.

The only saving grace was that there were no other families around, and honestly, I was pretty proud that she didn’t get any on her pants. For us girls peeing outdoors, that’s a pretty advanced technique.

Before we had kids, the whole stamp-of-country-living thing used to show up as red scoria mud caked to my car, as a line on my shins across my dress pants and the reason I had to change from muck boots to heels on my way to work. Or maybe all the times I’ve driven our pickup to a work meeting, singing gig or grocery store run with feed buckets, fencing supplies and once, accidentally, my dad’s cow dog hiding in the back.

She was afraid of storms, so I can’t blame her, but it was a long hour-and-a-half drive to bring her back home…

Growing up on the ranch leads to all kinds of adventures for the Veeder girls. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

Anyway, when I chose to raise my kids on the ranch, no one really warned me about the ways in which that upbringing might affect them — or, more importantly, embarrass me.

I should have known though. I mean, it might have been a million years ago, but I was once a ranch kid witnessing my little sister pop-a-squat right in front of the bleachers full of rodeo fans. The only time I’ve ever seen my dad run that fast was when he was being chased by a momma cow. I swear the two of them flew. At least most of that audience understood, likely finding themselves in a similar parenting position at one point or another.

But the time she peed in the middle of the lawn at an Art in the Park event in our hometown was a little harder to explain, the same way it’s hard to explain to a toddler that peeing outside is fine some places, just not others. The whole privacy thing is lost on a 2-year-old. Just ask any mom of young kids and she’ll tell you she hasn’t pooped without a guest appearance in years.

The 4-year-old at least has the outfits to pass in civilization. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

So that’s where I’m at today, working on acclimating my children to civilization. And we’re getting there. I mean, the 4-year-old at least has the outfits — long, flowy, sparkly princess dresses complete with a tiara and tiny high-heel shoes function well in the barnyard climbing on and off of ponies and picking up every cocklebur along the way. She looks the part, that one, but the fact that she doesn’t flinch at the dead bird the cat drug into the house, pulling a tick off the dog or that she can explain the birthing process of a calf without skipping a step sorta gives her away.

But, the 2-year-old? Send prayers and any tips you have for me on homeschooling and house training.

Peace, love and all my apologies to the Park Board,