On the backs of old horses

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-10-21-23-am

Somewhere in time’s own space
There must be some sweet pastured place
Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow
Some paradise where horses go,
For by the love that guides my pen
I know great horses live again.
~Stanley Harrison

Life lessons learned on the backs of old horses
by Jessie Veeder
1-15-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com 

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-10-32-08-am

Every farm or ranch needs an old horse, an animal with a long story of seeing it all so that he can be trusted with the smallest rider or the most inexperienced visitor who wants to see the place on horseback, a request that can be sort of nerve-wracking if you don’t have a trustworthy grandpa or gramma in the pen.

Because an old horse can make up in experience what your rider lacks. He won’t shy from that weird-shaped rock on the hill because he’s seen it a thousand times.

He won’t be spooked by a pheasant flying out of the brush because he’s too focused on stealing snips of sweet clover while he walks.

He won’t buck because he’s learned it doesn’t pay, and he won’t run off because he knows better and, frankly, he’s too tired for running.

Never been on the back of a horse?

An old horse will make you feel comfortable, anticipating the trail, avoiding the holes, calmly swishing the flies with his tail and generally ignoring the fact that your nerves are making you squeeze your legs too tight around him, your reins are too loose and dragging and you’re leaning a little too far to the left. There’s really nothing stopping him from walking back to the barn if he wanted.

But he won’t.

Because old horses know the right times to get away with bad behavior (tip: always lean forward when he takes you through the trees.)

I learned to ride on the back of an old red mare named Rindy. She was perfect for me in all the ways she was imperfect; her lack of withers and round belly made me pay attention to the cinch, her rough gait made me focus on my seat and her cowiness taught me to be cowy too.

And just when I thought things were going along smoothly, that old mare would throw in a little surprise, teaching me that paying attention is the first rule of horsemanship.

Anyway, Rindy has been gone for years, replaced by an old rodeo horse named Annie before Dad traded one of his colts for an old mule and a speckled trail horse named Stormy a few years before I moved back to the ranch.

Stormy became the grampa out here, deserving of every extra nibble of grain he ever received.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-10-28-28-am

He was the first horse I put all my nieces and nephews on when their legs were barely long enough to straddle the saddle.

Stormy was responsible for the truest faces of pure joy I’ve seen on any kids and that’s just one of the reasons I will forever be grateful for him.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-10-28-51-am

But that’s the thing about old horses: just when they’ve become so completely priceless and precious and irreplaceable, we start to notice the creak in their joints and the hair on their muzzle turning gray, a reminder that time doesn’t go easy on even the best things.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Stormy gave his last ride to my oldest niece this summer. We took off after supper just the two of us riding the home pasture, taking it slow, Stormy trailing a couple horse lengths behind me, the way he always has.

img_1012

It’s fitting really, because Stormy was the first horse my niece ever rode. I remember what she said before I hoisted her up on his back, her little straw hat with the pink piping sitting proudly on her head. “My tummy feels funny, like there’s flutters in there,” she declared.

Stormy taught her what nervous felt like, holding the power to turn a little girl into the cowgirl she dreamed she could be.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-10-33-22-am

And he was ready and waiting in the pasture when she was old enough and brave enough to go trotting over the hill alone, a story we revisit together often and one my niece will no doubt carry with her for her lifetime.

Because that’s what old horses give us and in return we carry their spirit in memories, stories, lessons learned and on the back of every horse we’ll ever ride again.

Rest easy, old friend. You were loved.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-10-22-01-am

 

When it’s colder than Antarctica…

img_4209

Happy Monday night everyone.

I had a weird dream last night that I was on a fancy ship and it was sinking, all the rooms were filling up with water and I was watching it happen like a movie. I woke up after a scene where me and a woman, who spent what I was sure to be our last breaths painting her nails, discovered we were the sole survivors.

I’m not sure what that means, except it stuck with me all day and I think the chaos I experienced in my sleep might be responsible for the chaos that ensued in my house today.

img_4186

In other words, Edie discovered the kitchen cabinets. And, even though I was prepared enough to buy those baby-proofing cabinet locks, I didn’t install them yet. And, when I went to do it today, I discovered that the baby-proofing cabinet locks I bought are stupid. And I hate them. And I need different ones. But I live 30 miles from town and apparently we’re in another two-day blizzard warning, so I have to wait for Amazon.com again, the same store that was responsible for my stupid purchase in the first place.  Because nobody’s review said they were stupid.

So basically, nothing’s safe anymore. When I go to get ready for the day, Edie thinks she needs to put on makeup and scatter my bathroom drawers across the floor into the bedroom where she then unloads my entire bottom drawer before moving on to the next one so she can try on all of my bras before heading to the closet for the scarves.

And I could stop her. But then I would never get my teeth brushed, hair combed, face washed, eyebrows plucked, etc.

img_4089

So I just let her loose. And if you can picture what our master bedroom and bathroom looks after those ten minutes, well, just apply that scenario to every room in the house.

Oh, I love her. She’s so fun right now.

Fun and exhausting.

img_4193

She’s sleeping now after a bedtime performance featuring her singing and waving her arms and swaying back and forth across the living room. There was to be no “night night” until the applause.

So now I have a moment to share this week’s column, which is basically an extension of my last post and my thoughts on the new year and how sometimes I think we don’t give the whole “who we are in the moments we’re in” enough credit.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately–the need to focus on the present instead of all of the plans I think I need to be making.

And I was doing really good at it for the first week of the new year. But you guys, yesterday it was colder here than in frickin’ Antarctica and the North Pole…

img_4211

and I had a couple glasses of wine in the evening and my sister was here to instigate and my mom was here to cheer us on and my husband was in the “whatever you want wife” mood and before I knew it I booked him and I a trip to Jamaica.

I feel like it was a bit of a cabin fever, I’m freezing my ass off and it’s our tenth year of marriage and we never had a proper honeymoon impulse purchase, but it’s done and, well, I did say we needed to have more date nights so, well, take that new years resolution!

So that’s where we’ll be at the end of May. And until then you can find me and Edie in this house at the other end of a trail of bras. I’ll be there trying my damnedest to get this book done. I’m almost there friends.

Almost there.

If I could just keep Edie out of the kitchen cabinets.

Peace, love and childproofing,

Sunday Column: A resolution for more sweet things
by Jessie Veeder
1-8-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I’m finding it hard to concentrate this morning.

After another two days of more snow, the sun is finally shining bright through my window and the arctic, frosty air is creating a big rainbow halo over the stock dam.

If I didn’t know better, I would think it might actually be a nice day out there. But I’ve lived here long enough. This is what five below zero looks like.

The baby is at daycare, and it’s the first time in a couple weeks that I’ve been home without her. It’s quiet. I can hear the furnace turn on and off, the background music to the thoughts I should be thinking about the symbol of a new year, a fresh start, another chance to make myself better.

However, I keep getting distracted by the part of the internet that features tropical vacations while last night’s dishes stay piled in the sink and Edie’s toys stay scattered on the ground alongside the crumbs from the crackers she was carrying around, one in each hand, before her noodle supper.

Welcome to 2017.

It looks about exactly like 2016 except colder, messier and, well, there’s more snow.

I’ve always sort of hated the fact that the whole new-year-new-beginnings thing falls smack in the middle of the longest season. I mean, how does anyone expect to swear off carbs and start a treadmill regime in January in North Dakota when we need the extra padding the most? It’s irresponsible.

Talk to me in July about healthy resolutions, and I’ll be the first one to schedule us a hiking trip.

Talk to me about resolutions in January and, well, here are the necessary life changes that are on my mind:

  1. More snuggles
  2. More sleep
  3. More sweaters
  4. More vacations

Oh, and I should probably shovel off my deck before it collapses under the weight of the five foot snowdrift, but that looks like the only mildly productive resolution I’ve accumulated.

Don’t get me wrong, I have career goals brewing, and some fun projects coming down the pipe for 2017, but this year I’m not sure how complicated I want to get in making personal promises to myself.

Because I’ve spent the entire duration of 2016 in the new-to-me universe of motherhood, wondering what it is I should be doing and how my limited time, limited energy and limited money is best spent, a question that seems more pressing now that I’m responsible for a little one, and she grows and changes by the second.

And you know what I just realized? It isn’t caring for this new life that’s been so tiring and challenging. No. That’s been the fun part.

The hard parts have been on me and that nagging voice in my head that I keep nurturing, the one that keeps suggesting that what I’m doing isn’t enough.

Working more or home more? Daycare or no daycare? More play dates? More real dates? Early mornings spent writing? Even earlier mornings on the treadmill?

Nobody tells you that about new motherhood. They don’t tell you that the biggest adjustment is getting to know the new version of yourself after that baby is born.

It’s been over a year and I’m not sure I’m there yet, except I’m determined to stop being so hard on her in 2017.

I’m determined to like her. Because I haven’t written a song or done a lunge in months, but I have pulled a tiny human in a sled to the top of a snowy hill all in the name of a smile, and I think that might be just as important (and more aerobic) these days.

And I simply can’t bring myself to say I’m going to eat fewer caramel rolls in 2017 because the New Year needs more sweet things, not less.

So here’s a thought I’ve never really entertained in a life spent making plans (plans that got us to this very magical and demanding moment of our lives): Maybe what we’re doing right now is exactly what we need to be doing right now.

And maybe it’s perfect timing after all. January is the best month for snuggling.

 

 

Diary of a Christmas Blizzard: A comparison

img_6786

Diary of a Christmas Blizzard: A Comparison
by Jessie Veeder
1-1-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

My gramma Edie used to keep a diary of her life here at the Veeder Ranch. They weren’t particularly thorough, and most were written in tiny scrawl on pocket calendars with most every entry detailing accounts of the weather, work, cattle and who stopped by the place for a cup of coffee or to borrow something.

It makes me wonder today, as I sit staring at the chest-deep snow drift that has piled up against my glass living room doors, how she might have documented the snow-pocalypse Christmas blizzard of 2016 if she were still alive today.

I imagine it like this:

December 25, 2016. Christmas. It snowed all day today, about 16 inches with big drifts in places. Wind was strong.

The kids got home in time to beat the storm but will have to stay an extra day to dig out. The boys pushed enough snow to get the cows fed. Gene cooked a nice prime rib meal. Had a good time with the family.

As a writer I appreciate my grandmother’s diligence in keeping her journals, but while I share her sentiment for recording history, I hold quite a bit more flair for the dramatic details.

My diary looks a little more like this:

December 25, 2016. CHRISTMAS! Well, the plague might have kept me from participating in our traditional Christmas Eve pancake supper and seeing my baby in her Christmas dress try to eat the Silent Night candle at church, but it looks like I lived. Oh, and despite the howling and whipping wind, they got power back to mom and dad’s house last night before 10 p.m., making the local linemen the real heroes of the holiday.

This morning we woke up to a fun Christmas surprise! Our baby decided she can full-on walk, so we dressed her in her red tutu, chased her up and down the hallway and helped her open her presents at home before gathering up the caramel rolls, presents, diaper bag, snowsuits, boots and a partridge in a pear tree to head down the road to spend the day at Mom and Dad’s.

We were just about to walk out the door when we got a phone call. Gramma and Grampa stayed at the cabin last night and on their way out of the barnyard they made a detour for the ditch.

At that time only a few of the bazillion predicted snowflakes had fallen, but it wasn’t long before the wind started howling, the sky opened up and we were unwrapping presents, eating prime rib and playing dominoes in a regular shaken-up snow globe.

Speaking of shaking, turns out you shouldn’t bounce a baby who has consumed two pounds of blueberries, turkey, prime rib, 27 crackers and a bite of every dessert on the table.

While an epic blizzard raged outside, inside Edie brewed up and delivered a Christmas bedtime projectile vomit that’s sure to go down in infamy.

It snowed about a good foot or so by the time we loaded up to head home. Dad followed us in his pickup in case we got stuck along the way. I think he likes plowing through the drifts more than a grown man should…

December 26, 2016. Well, the weatherman wasn’t joking.

I woke up to a chest-deep snowdrift on my deck, more snow falling from the sky and a wind that was intent on making it impossible to clear the roads.

Mom called and said their heat wasn’t working, sending Dad up to the roof to clear the chimney, successfully rubbing the shine off the Christmas snow globe analogy.

The guys spent six hours in tractors trying to get my grandparents dug out of the 12-foot snowdrift that piled up on the cabin overnight.

In the meantime, my little sister and I were snowed in at the house without any leftovers. Seriously. I should have grabbed the cheese ball on my way out the door on Christmas night. What was I thinking?

We spent the afternoon eating chili and keeping the baby from crashing on the mini-4-wheeler she got from my in-laws. I haven’t seen this much snow out here in my lifetime. I see an epic sledding party in our future, guests arriving by sled and tractor…

Had a good time with family.

 

 

The last day of 2016: Just a few things.

img_4062

Welcome to the last day of 2016.

Out here it arrived in the form of high winds, blowing snow, icy roads and a no travel advisory, much like Christmas. So we did what I’ve been getting used to doing, we stayed home and did home things, like eating and playing toys, working on my book three minutes at a time, doing laundry and destroying every room in the house before cleaning it up and moving on to the next room.

Here how my daughter helps me put clothes away…

img_4089

Husband spends most of his free time in the tractor pushing snow around, which promptly just blows back in its place. On Thursday I planned on busting out of this joint to go to a movie with my niece and sister, but first Husband had to come home from work and clear the way. Seriously. So I found myself staring out the window in my coat watching for the tractor to come down the road like a little kid waiting for Santa. Because I hadn’t been out of the yard since the day after Christmas.

img_4087

But it’s been sorta nice. My niece was here for a few day visit so I had 13-year-old company and 13-month-old company and we all get along swimmingly.

img_4118

I should have spent some of this time in the black hole between Christmas and New Years to make a plan for the next year, to write it all down nice and neat, set some goals with intentions to see them through, but I didn’t. And I like goals. I like declaring them. It’s the only way I move forward with my work, make any new music or stories and  continue to justify doing what I love for a living. So there are some new career goals that have been brewing.

But this year, this 2017, I’m not sure how complicated I want to get in making personal promises to myself. I’ve spent the entire duration of 2016 in the new-to-me universe of motherhood and if there’s anything I’ve learned in the process it’s that the best thing I can do for myself is to work on being fine with what I’m doing and who I am in the here and now.

I feel like I’ve spent so much of this year wondering what it is I should be doing. Seriously. Most of my conversations have fallen into that category. Should I be working more? Should I be home more? Daycare? No Daycare? More play dates? More time with my friends? I should wake up early to write. I should wake up earlier to get on the treadmill. We need more date nights. Definitely more date nights.

Basically, I spent the year trying to figure out where and how my limited time and limited energy and limited money is best spent, a question that seemed more pressing now that I am responsible for a little one, and she grows and changes by the second.

img_4120

And it’s not that I wasn’t confident in my role as a wife and mother, it’s just that I wondered where the rest of me fit into my life now. Nobody tells you that about new motherhood. They don’t tell you that one of the biggest adjustments is finding and getting to know the new version of yourself after that baby is born.

It’s been a year and I’m not sure I’m there yet. But I’m getting closer. Like, I know that nurturing my creative energy and keeping that as the focus of my work continues to be important to me, but now it looks a little more like planning and work to find it (like, “gasp!” scheduling some alone time!)

And I know I’m a happier person when I get to spend actual quality time with my husband and daughter. And by quality time I just mean time spent being a family, feeding cows together, having supper or just playing on the living room rug, so I’m going to try to do more of that. It sounds simple, but between ranch work and work work and house building it hasn’t been. And neither has calling someone sometimes to watch her so the two of us can do some things on our own. I have to do more of that in 2017.

But I think that’s it. I think I’m not going to worry so much about the stuff in between. If I get to the treadmill, great! But I’d rather pull my daughter up the hill in her sled (if the damn  wind quits blowing) and get my huffing and puffing in that way.

img_4066

And I don’t want to say I’m going to eat less caramel rolls in 2017 because that’s just asking for disappointment.  And the new year needs more sweet things, not less.

And when I’m feeling a little scattered or lonesome, I’m going to call a friend. Because that’s what friends are for and I need to remember that, for me and for my friends as well.

Cheers to a New Year. Thanks for following along and sticking with this story of ours. And thanks for sharing yours along the way.

Here’s to collecting memories and making new ones. If you need us we’ll be out sledding with the neighbors.

Peace, champaign toasts and sippy cups,

Jessie

img_4145

 

 

 

Time, memories and the magic of Christmas

img_6826

Well, it was a Christmas to remember for so many reasons.

The first was waking up on Christmas Day to a baby who decided that she’s ready to full-fledge walk.

And so we spent the weekend watching her wobble and bobble and dance and clap and experience her world on two feet.

Tomorrow she’ll be running.

Next week she’ll tell me she’s training for a marathon.

img_6722

And in between all of the present wrapping and unwrapping, eating, drinking and being merry, an epic winter blizzard of North Dakota proportions raged outside our doors, making us grateful to be together warm and cozy inside…

img_6753

only to send the boys out the spend the entire next day behind tractors and skid steers and shovels trying to open the roads and feed the cows and whittle away at the ten foot drifts that had piled against our houses, doors and pathways.

And then there was a Christmas ditch situation and a memorable the-baby-ate-too-many-blueberries-and-other-Christmas-treats bedtime projectile vomit episode that will go down in infamy.

img_6771

And now that the company has gone and the wind has died down and the sun is out, making the chest-deep snowdrift on my deck sparkle and shine, I have a moment while the baby snacks on Cheerios (and blueberries…what’s wrong with me?) to share last week’s column about the magic of Christmas, which, I’ve decided, lies in the simple and crazy precious memories we create without even realizing it.

Even when nothing goes as planned.

img_6799

Christmas reminds us of the magic of time
12-25-16
Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I was too old to believe in Santa Clause when reality finally started tugging at my sleeves.

I tried to shoo the truth away as long as I could, not so eager to grow up and exist in a world surrounded by it because the truth never seemed quite as thrilling as the dreamed up.

I suppose I’ve always been one to hang on to the coattails of magic as long as it lets me, as long as it doesn’t grow too wild and reckless, sending me spinning and whipping off its haunches.

I think that’s what keeps me telling and retelling the best parts then, the ones from a childhood spent believing that maybe my horse could understand the words I spoke, my “secret spot” 12 feet off the road was actually secret and Santa Clause would exist as long as I found a way to never grow up.

I never wanted to grow up.

Of all of the memories I’ve collected as a kid in these hills, I remember that most clearly.

I was sensitive enough to the trials of adulthood to know that children had it best. I knew because I was listening from the other side of my closed bedroom door — hushed conversations in the kitchen while we were supposed to be sleeping, the stories of lost love coming from dad’s record player, the hugs from strangers at my grandparents’ funerals.

I knew what time did to people, and I wondered how I might make it miss me.

My grandpa died when I was six years old. His death brought our family back to the ranch for good, and it gave me another five years or so living down the road from my grandmother.

Actually, it gave us all that time with her, but I don’t own my family’s memories. I only have mine.

And I remember one summer evening lying in the patch of sun that lit up the carpet through the open window in my grandmother’s living room.

The TV was on, but it wasn’t as interesting to me as watching the way the dust caught the stream of light, turning it from invisible to visible.

My grandma had fallen asleep in her easy chair with a newspaper on her lap, her head tilted back, sort of snoring. She had a habit of holding a toothpick in the corner of her mouth, and I noticed as she took those deep, noisy breaths that her toothpick was still there, in danger, I was certain, of being sucked down her throat as she slept, unaware.

That’s the kind of kid I was, so comfortable and in love with the familiarity of my good and safe life, and a little too aware of its volatility, a little worried I was too lucky.

I sat up, eyes fixated on that toothpick, watching my grandmother’s lips purse and pop with each breath in and out, suddenly becoming distinctly aware of time.

I didn’t want to live in a world without her.

And I didn’t want to live in a world where time made me think it too cold for sledding or allowed me to walk by a swimming pool or a lake or the perfect puddle and not want to, (have to) jump in.

And so Christmas has come again, and the new year is right behind, bringing with it the recognition of time passed, new promises and reminders to miss the people who’ve left us here to admire the twinkling lights without them.

Now that I’ve succumbed to adulthood, I wish I could remember what it was like to truly believe in such an impossible thing like Santa Clause. My six-year-old self would be so disappointed in me.

But if I could, I would tell her a secret I’ve learned in the growing up we were so afraid of: I would say she was doing the right thing in holding on tight to her gratitude. Then I would tell her not to worry so much about time, because time gives us memories, memories we get to go back to whenever we want, but also, memories just waiting to be made.

And that, child, is the most magic you’ll find in this life.

Hold on tight to its tails.

screen-shot-2016-04-01-at-1-25-07-pm

Winter and why we’re never doing anything ever again…

img_6578-copy

It’s winter. It’s almost Christmas. December 21st. It’s official.

As if the weeks of sub-zero temperatures, snow piling up and blowing across the road and last nights freezing rain didn’t give us enough of a clue, we needed the calendar to confirm it.

Well, Happy Winter.

We’re going a little nutty around here, doing whatever it takes to find amusement while we’re socked in the house dealing with teeth problems and head colds, both mom and baby included.

There’s nothing more fun than a teething baby who can’t breathe out of her nose hanging out with her mom with a toothache who can’t breathe out of her nose.

Good thing we have the same sense of humor. Like, only a mother would find her child’s grapes-on-her-head-instead-of-in-her-mouth-trick funny.

What a weirdo.

img_3657

In a few days we’ll be celebrating Christmas with all the relatives we can get our hands on, so I’m hoping we can get our shit together. Husband’s been in on that goal. He’s actually helped me wrap presents this year, a task I find so amusing to watch, him hanging out on the floor with me hunched over little boxes, his big hands trying to maneuver little folds and pieces of tape, trying to get things just right and pretty in an adorable juxtaposition of masculine energy performing a task that requires some daintiness.

I’d post a photo of it, but he’d never help me again, soooooo…..

In other news, Husband and I finally took my little sister up on the offer of watching Edie for a few hours while we had an impromptu date night. I came to town with the baby to visit the nursing home on behalf of the Cattlewomen and afterwards I didn’t feel much like pushing my runny-nosed child through the aisles of the store trying to remember what I needed cream cheese for,

img_3894

so I called Little Sister and all was arranged. I would meet Husband after he was off work and our first night out together since the baby was born  (besides our anniversary vacation) would include grocery shopping and a burger.

Seriously. What’s wrong with us? Why don’t we go out together? We need to make a resolution. Did you get a haircut? Is that a new shirt? Are your eyes still brown? I forgot what you look like. Aren’t we having a good time? These are the things we talked about while I tried hard to remember that I didn’t need to hurry in the store or scarf my burger because we were frrreeeeee…….

And then I got a text message. A video. From Little Sister.

Edie was walking! Ever since she took her first little steps in the hallway weeks ago, I’ve been begging her to do it again. I’ve tried all my tricks and the kid would dance. She would bounce. She would clap and play peek-a-boo, but she wouldn’t walk.

She was never going to walk.

Unless we went out for the first time in months and months and months and left her with her aunt for thirty minutes. Then she’d walk.

“This is why we don’t do anything ever,” said my husband.

And it appears we might have to go for a burger and leave her with Aunty A. if we ever want to see her walk again…

Why am I in such a hurry to get her to walk. I’m going to regret this…

img_6632

Ah, anyway. Merry Christmas friends. I hope you find yourself in a season void of the sniffles and full of tiny little every day miracles.

Peace, Love and some pictures of my baby in a sled.

 

 

 

Stuck in Winter

Every since the sky dumped a couple feet of snow on our ranch after Thanksgiving, bringing with it days on end of sub-zero temperatures, all we’ve done is get stuck and pull each other out.

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up, except yesterday I got puked on all down my shirt and into the crevasses of the recliner in the living room by baby Edie who apparently doesn’t chew her strawberry pieces, if you know what I mean.

So here’s how it’s been going so far this winter…not great really.

Not that great.

img_6632

Winter has arrived at the ranch
by Jessie Veeder
12-11-16
http://www.inforum.com

So … winter has arrived. Look out your window.

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-1-13-21-pm

I know you see it in the giant drift you had to dig through to get out your front door making a perfect pile for the kids to build tunnels in after school. Some of you might even have a snowman or two looking back at you.

And some of you have cleared your driveways and sidewalks down to the dry concrete already. I know because I went to the big town and saw for myself a winter phenomenon so far removed from the drifty, snow-packed, ice-crusted gravel road that is my life. I made my husband slow down so he could take a good long look.

“What, did they take a hair dryer to it or something?” he exclaimed, horrified at the site of such domestication and clearly not getting the hint.

That’s OK. He didn’t get my first hint either, the one where I tried to move the four-wheeler from our driveway up the road and to the shop where it belongs at least five times, spinning my wheels, using my best cuss words and nearly squashing the old lab in the process before declaring the hill un-climbable and returning to the un-shoveled driveway.

“You should have put it in four-wheel drive,” said my husband when he got in from finishing the job.

I thought it was in four-wheel drive.

And so that’s how we do winter here at the ranch. We (literally) rev the engine and plow through.

img_3704

But that cowboy-in-coveralls mentality didn’t quite pan out on our way to feed the cows a couple bales the other day. I had been whining to my husband, telling him that since the baby came I haven’t been able to go outside as much, that I miss going along and being useful and getting my hands dirty. I said I’m not cut out for the constant inside chores like laundry and dishes and figuring out what to make for supper.

That I’d much prefer to be doing chores outside.

So the next evening he got home before dark, I bundled up the baby and we went along in the feed pickup. It was decent weather, enough to melt the top of those big snowdrifts — the ones that make us forget where the big rocks and deep ravines hide. Not that a big rock or deep ravine has ever stopped the men on this place from hitting the gas harder in an attempt to get the job done.

But do you know what almost always stops them? Three feet of heavy wet snow strung out over a quarter of a mile on the trail.

I know because these are always the times I get to go along.

And so there we were, sunk to the floorboards with a bale on the loader, a baby in a snowsuit, a sun dipping below the horizon and a good half-mile walk to the shop for the tractor I suggested we take instead.

I know those words came out of my mouth.

“You stay here, I’ll be right back,” were the words that came out of his mouth.

Ten minutes into trying to keep the baby from licking the dirty window I started my own half-mile trek to the house, not thinking he’d actually need my help, forgetting that someone needs to be behind the wheel of the pickup when the tractor pulls you out.

I made it 100 yards from the house, trudging through knee-deep snow in my winter gear with a squealing one-year old dangling off my hip only to be loaded up and taken back to the scene of the crime.

I was charged with keeping the pickup in gear, my foot on the gas and the baby content while my husband yanked us out of the hole he dug us in, only to watch him get us stuck again and then listen as he directed me to drive it back home on our tracks while he followed.

“If you get stuck, I’ll just nudge you with the tractor,” he said.

Which he only had to do once on the steep hill coming out of the driveway where I got the four-wheeler stuck.

Because this is winter at the ranch, and there aren’t enough snowplows (or hairdryers) in the world.

img_3718

When life reminds you

Here is a little video (probably one that falls in the category of one of those things that only my family and I will find so adorable) of Edie walking to the pool with her daddy.

We went to the big town sort of spontaneously to visit one of our friends who just had a new baby and get some Christmas shopping done. And we stayed in a hotel so that the baby could go in the pool. She loves the pool. These are the thing we do for our children that I never thought I would do for my children. Like squeeze my pasty winter body into a bathing suit right smack in the middle of the holidays and then go out in public (in bad lighting) like that in the name of watching a baby splash and squeal with her dad for twenty minutes.

It was a quick trip, we didn’t sleep at all in that hotel, and we didn’t really get much Christmas shopping done, but it was fun. It’s fun to be out and about with this little family thinking about and picking out gifts for the people we love.

These are the little things I often take for granted.

shopping

These are the things that run through my head in those brief reminders life gives us about how it could all be taken away…

Coming Home: A reminder to slow down, be thankful
by Jessie Veeder
12-4-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I was downstairs trying my best to finish up a deadline I’d been working on submitting all day. It was the Monday after a long Thanksgiving break spent with family and food scattered around the house for days.

The baby was so worn out from the excitement of it all that she decided to stop sleeping and pop her first molar, and I was ready to get back into the swing of things.

Things like getting this very important grant sent off before the deadline, a simple wrap-up made entirely more complex when done in the moments before and after the baby decided she needed to be held, fed, rocked, read to, sung to or saved from the stairs.

It was 5:30 or so, the weatherman was telling me about the snow that had been accumulating by the inches since I woke up that morning, blowing, drifting and piling up, and it wasn’t expected to quit.

And just as fast as Edie went from across the room to by my side helping me type on my laptop keyboard, it went from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

“No, no, no,” I said to her.

“No, no, no,” she said back to me, shaking her head and laughing.

“Seriously, kid. Give me five minutes,” I whined.

She whined back and threw her cup to the ground.

img_3632

“Ugh, where’s your dad?!” I asked in frustration before I really thought about it.

And then I thought about it.

It was getting dark. I called him over an hour ago to find out when to expect him for supper.

“I have some leftover cream we need to use up,” I said as I saved the baby’s life for the 50th time that day. “I’m gonna make knoephla.”

“Ok,” he said. “I’m on my way home.”

And he should have been home by now. Like a long time ago.

“Seriously though baby, where’s your dad?” I sighed as I put her in her high chair. A little wave of panic overcame me. I picked up my cell phone and called him for the answer.

Only he didn’t answer.

He always answers.

My heart started pounding as I quickly ran through all the circumstances in my head, looking out the window at a darkening sky against a road totally void of headlights.

The wind splattered snow against the side of the house, and I spooned some stuffing in my baby’s mouth, wondering if her dad was in a ditch somewhere. Wondering if I should load her up to go out looking for him, flashing forward, in a matter of minutes, to that worst case scenario we all think won’t happen to us until it happens to us.

Is it happening to us?

I paced the floor and searched my mind for a different explanation for his absence. This wasn’t the first time I’ve found myself a bit panicked. Plans run late, tires go flat, neighbors need help, pickups go in ditches, but out here alone in the night with miles of snow-covered county road between me and the answer, the whole not-knowing thing can escalate into something more daunting and lonesome in a hurry if you let it.

And each minute you’ve convinced yourself there’s a chance he’s not safe is helpless anguish, and suddenly the last words you spoke to one another come to you in waves and it’s all very dramatic in the very likely case that he’s just fine, probably at the barn or pulling someone out of the ditch.

I grabbed the baby and started the car and walked back inside for my gloves.

And then the phone rang.

I try to take vows to be grateful. I’m not always grateful. I try to live in the moment, but I’m often distracted. Many days the person I love the most gets the worst of me.

But every once in a while, if we listen, we might get little reminders to slow down and be thankful — for the deadlines, for the whining, for the leftover stuffing, for the whole mess.

I stirred cream in the soup and listened to my husband talk to our baby as she splashed in the bath while the wind whipped the snow up our dark country road.

“I’ve been reminded,” I whispered.

OK. I’ve been reminded.

 

My attempt at winter.

15284966_1301318163251759_5050630394759059186_n
Oh my gosh you guys we got a lotta snow out here the past few days.

In a blink of an eye it turned from Thanksgiving to Christmas and I haven’t been out of the house since Sunday.

15219376_1302427063140869_586870686600361277_n

I’ve been home with the baby and then, the past two days, Husband brought her in town to play at daycare and I’ve been hunkered down at my laptop trying my damnedest to finish this book project, which means I’ve been combing through the archives of the past five years of blogging, column writing and photo taking, trying to pick my favorites and make it all make sense together and generally going crazy and becoming completely sick of myself.

So before the sun set I decided to go outside to see what I could see and get this stink off of me.

snow-3-1

Husband said the road up and out of the house was pretty bad, but that he got after it with the tractor last night and cleared it up a bit more, so I was feeling confident I could help him finish the chore he didn’t get to last night (or last weekend before the storm hit like we should have done), which was moving the 4-wheelers into the big garage in the barn yard.

No problem.

But first I needed my hat, cloves, boots, neckerchief and coveralls, which were upstairs in the garage in a bin where, apparently, judging by the evidence of hair, the cat sleeps.

No problem. A little cat hair never hurt anything.

Now, time to start the 4-wheeler. But first, I need a shovel to brush the foot of snow off, and also, maybe dig a little trail behind it to help it get unstuck.

No problem. Started right up. Pulled right out, drove down the road along the snow trail Husband cut with his pickup this morning and I was toot-tooting right along until…ugh…what’s that smell?…stop.

Sniff my coat.

Sniff my glove.

Sniff my hand.

Sniff my coveralls.

Sniff my coveralls again…

Smells like cat piss.

The cat pissed on my coveralls.

I was wearing cat piss coveralls. A perfect outfit for failing my five attempts at making it through the snow and up the hill and out of our driveway to get to the big shop in the barnyard.

snow-2-1

So me and my cat piss coveralls brought it back home to get the pickup and, still trying to be helpful and avoid going back to my computer, I drove the pickup to the shop so Husband could drive it home when he figured out a way to easily get that 4-wheeler out of the yard and into the shop, finishing my half-assed attempt at getting a chore done like usual.

I don’t know how he’ll feel about his pickup being parked there, but it’s too late now. I walked home and left it for him anyway, me and my stink cloud trailing behind me, hitting some snow banks that had me crawling on my hands and knees to get out, successfully completing enough exercise to at least get me through the rest of December.

Now I’m home and my lungs are burning, my back is sweating, my cheeks are frozen, my book’s still not done and getting the stink off me failed in more than way than one.

But if I hurry I might get myself a full shower, leg shave and everything, before the baby gets home.

So that’s something.

Peace, Love and Cat Pee Pants,

Jessie

The cow feeding ritual…

14711229_1102594733128898_4695161028312843880_o
Dad retired last week from his job as Economic Development Director in McKenzie County. He’s been in that position for 24 years. He retired so he could run for County Commissioner. And he was elected. And so he’s not really retiring from his position as a community leader, actually, he’s just going to lead in other ways. And also, he’s taking another job.

So I’m not sure my parents will ever retire really, for both of them their work is so closely tied to their hearts.

I wrote this after we threw dad  little party to celebrate one chapter ending and another one beginning. So many of his friends, family and colleagues stopped by, even more wrote to wish him well.

img_3270

And it turns out he didn’t take a day to rest or relax like I was hoping when I wrote this column. He had a couple meetings to round out the week he spent packing up his office.

But he did, like he always does, take some time for the cattle, the other job he’s been in for his entire life. The one he’ll likely never retire from.

Oh, and he also always finds an excuse to knock on the door to check in on us…

img_3305

Coming Home: Feeding cows memorable in so many ways
by Jessie Veeder
11-20-16
http://www.inforum.com

Outside, up out of our driveway next to the gravel county road, a couple pyramids of hay bales are stacked up nice and neat, waiting to be unrolled on the cold hard ground for the cows that we will be feeding this winter.

It’s a ritual that goes along with keeping cows around here through the months of November (or October if winter comes early) and on into April or May or until the grass comes back. It’s just one of the winter ranching chores that goes along with keeping the water open, the tractors running, the roads and trails clear of snow and mastering the art of doing it all while wearing seventeen layers of winter clothing.

When I was growing up we had cattle every winter. And every evening after my dad came home from his work in town, often after the sun had gone down, I would bundle up in my coveralls and beanie, and sit beside him in the feed pickup as he rolled out bales for the cows.

It was one of my favorite chores for a lot of reasons. The pickup had heat, so that was one of them. I got to sit bundled up and watch the cows come in from the hills in a nice straight, black line.

When we would feed cake or grain, I got to drive the pickup while dad shoveled it out the back. He would put it in low and release the clutch and tell me to keep it out of the trees. My nose would barely reach over the steering wheel, but I felt helpful and I liked it.

And I liked the way the hay smelled when it unrolled from the back of the pickup, like it had kept some summer underneath its layers. There’s something about an everyday chore like this that is sort of comforting. Maybe it’s the knowing that you’re a necessary part of the order of things. Knowing that you’re responsible.

It’s the taking care I think.

Last week we celebrated dad’s retirement from 24 years as the county’s economic development director, a job he was passionate about, one that had him helping to problem solve in the slow times when people were moving away from this community and troubleshooting during boom times when it seemed like the entire country was moving in and looking for their place here.

It was a stressful and rewarding career, one that he’s not necessarily done with as he’s moving on to similar work, but it’s one that often kept him up at night or late in town at meetings. And so, for most of my life, he’s had that job and he’s had the ranch and the work that needed to be done to keep things running, in different ways throughout the years, sometimes late in the evening, or in the early mornings and always on the weekends.

Since moving back to the ranch almost five years ago, my husband and I have been trying to learn as much as we can from him about what it looks like and how to function as full time working people who also run cattle. I told him I had no idea how hard it must have been for my mom and dad when I was growing up and riding along with him, often feeding cows in the cold and in the dark when he made it home from work. I never knew because he never made it look like work.

My parents didn’t complain because this is the life they wanted and agreed on.

I get that, although I probably complain more.

Monday was dad’s official first day in 24 years that he didn’t wake up as the county’s economic development director. He has a month or so before he settles into his new professional role, so I was hoping he’d take a minute to relax and take a breath.

I pulled out of my driveway and up past the hay yard and down the county road, heading east for work and there was dad, in the late morning chill of November, dressed in his wool cap and Carhart coat driving his feed pickup, unrolling a hay bale, spending the first day of retirement, feeding cows.