The Animals of Winter

Animals of winter
Like the animals of winter

Last week, I went out into the winter. I squeezed into my long underwear, pulled on layers, tied my scarf around my neck, made sure my wool cap covered my ears and zipped my coat to my chin.

The snow was fresh and the wind was blowing it in sparkly swirls around the barnyard. The hay bales were adequately frosted in neatly stacked white drifts, remnants of the small blizzard that blew through the ranch in the evening and was lingering into the late morning hours.

I stuck out my tongue to taste the snowflakes and snuggled down into the collar of my coat like a turtle as I walked toward the horses munching on hay below the barn. I wished I had their fur coats, thick and wooly and brave against the wind. I wished I had their manes, wild and tangled and smelling of dust and autumn leaves, summer heat and ice.

They keep it all in there, all of the seasons.

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They nudged and kicked at one another, digging their noses deeper in the stack of hay, remembering green grass and fields, tasting warmer weather in their snack. I lingered there with them, noticing how the ice stuck on their eyelashes and clung to the long hair on their backs.

I scratched their ears and pulled some burs out of their manes and imagined what grove of trees they picked to wait out the storm last night, standing close and breathing on one another’s back. A herd.

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I followed them out of the protection of the barnyard and into the pasture where the frozen wind found my cheeks and the dogs cut footprints in the fluffy snow in front of my steps. They played and barked and jumped and sniffed and rolled in the white stuff, like children on a snow day.

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I found the top of the hill and let myself feel the cold. I had forgotten how my cheeks can go numb, how my fingertips ache, now my eyelashes stick together at the close of a blink and how the wind finds its way through the layers of clothing and freezes my skin.

I forgot that sometimes it doesn’t matter that you took care to wear wool socks and three pairs of pants — we are never as prepared as the animals. Sometimes, the weather just wins.

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I wished I had fur on my ears, tufts on my feet, whiskers to catch the snow. I wished I had hard hooves to anchor me, my own herd to lean against, to protect me from the wind. I wished I was part of a pack, chasing and jumping and rolling through the drifts.

I might have stayed out longer if I had these things. I would have explored how the creek had froze, stuck my nose in the snow, walked along the banks of the coulee, leaned against the buttes and followed the indecisive sun.

But my scarf wasn’t thick enough, there was snow in my boots and my skin is fragile and thin. No, my body’s not wooly and my nose is not fuzzy. And my fingers? Well, if we can’t have hooves, then we at least have fingers, to knit sweaters and sew together blankets, our hands to build fires and houses to protect us, our arms to wrap around one another, our feet to propel us toward shelter or sun and our brains to invent things like warm, spicy soup and hot coffee and buttery buns.

No, we might not have fur coats, but we have opposable thumbs. I pointed my frozen feet toward the house and flung open the door, stripped off my layers and stood over the heater vent, happy for my warm house and man-made blankets.

And happier still for a promise of spring that isn’t too far away on this winter day…

Winter Horses

A New Song

A New Song

“If being closer to the ground, makes for softer falls, you have to be tough to stand tall.”

I was 17 years old, getting ready to move away from the ranch and out into the world when I wrote that line, feeling the pull of growing up looming over me like the nurse who calls your name and is now waiting in the doorway for you to follow her back for the diagnosis.

I knew that impending adulthood should more thrill than loom, and so there I was, behind my guitar, trying to convince myself…

“I don’t believe in fairy tales or staying young forever…”

My voice sounded higher, lighter, but surprisingly not timid and unsure like I know I felt in that studio in frigid Fargo where I recorded that song over Christmas break during college, when it seemed every other student was back home with the familiar. Almost 20 years ago.

I chose to stay away to create a piece of work that would mark the very frozen, determined and often lonesome four years I spent away at college, with long stretches of time spent traveling the Plains, singing for my supper. Wondering what to be when I grew up.

A Place to Belong-2005

My 2005 Release

It was avoidance in the form of work. It was the same thing I did the summer after my freshman year, knowing that if I went back to the ranch, I might never leave. So I stayed to be a grown-up.

And then I blinked and I’m grown up. And the grown-up version of me listened to those words tonight, staring into the path my headlights cut on Interstate 94 headed east to where the snow is piled high up past my knees.

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I just purchased $50 worth of face cream on an impulse to try to keep the evidence from 36 years of laughing, worrying, rolling my eyes and sleeping face-down with the pillow smashed over my head from truly showing and I was trying to keep my mind off of a rolling argument my husband and I have been having for a couple months now.

When I called him to check in, the puppy had just pooped on the carpet, and one of our young daughters had stepped in it. This was no time to try to work through it again.

I let him go and decided to seek refuge in a voice that used to be so familiar to me. I rarely listen to my music after it’s produced and out in the world, unless I have to relearn something. Which always baffles people — that I would have to relearn a piece of music I wrote myself, as if once it’s down, it’s etched in my memory.

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But it’s all so much more complicated than that, isn’t it?

Because we move on. We change, and along the way we pick our favorite stories to carry with us. My songs have been like that for me.

Jessie Veeder Music

I suppose sometimes relationships are like that, too. That’s why marriage can be so beautifully maddening. Because it’s a song you’re continually writing with someone who, sometimes, may be singing in a completely different key.

When I wrote those words at 17, I loved the boy who would become the man who, as I type, has likely fallen asleep in one of our kids’ beds, fully dressed, neckerchief and all, taking care of the things we love while I’m hundreds of miles away telling stories.

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Was this the fairy tale I wouldn’t let myself believe in? How could I have ever known what it would truly take to make the happily ever after that I muse and ponder and write about these days?

At least I knew then that I couldn’t know, and that’s the beauty of it all for me.

The new song? It has uncertainties, but they are changed now.

And it has more patience and apologies, good humor and messes and arguments in the kitchen.

Oh, and two daughters with the world before them, perfectly oblivious and twirling across the unswept floor.

And it sounds less like a child and more like a woman in a three-day ponytail standing next to a man in a wool cap who together believe fiercely in that fairy tale, not the one that sparkles and shines, but the one that holds on tight…

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Watch for the release of my new album, “Playin’ Favorites” that celebrates the songs that influenced me in the spring. 

And check out my music website,jessieveedermusic.com for a list of places I’ll be playing near you! 

This New Year, let a toddler inspire you…

This new year, let a toddler inspire you
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Facing down the new year, like Rosie!

Isn’t it funny how time ticking on still astounds us, regardless of how we are aware that the spinning earth moves us on into a new hour, a new day, a new week and on and on until we’re standing in a life we almost all say, we could have never imagined…

Each new year, like many of us do, I make a small list of goals I’d like to accomplish. And although I’ve gained a good solid 5 pounds eating fudge and prime rib this holiday season, I don’t like to clutter this list with things like “eat less pasta and more carrots” because, for me, that’s a daily struggle.

No, I like the goals on this list to be a bit more tangible, like spend more time with my friends, or get my children’s book done for cryin’ out loud. Those were on my list last year, along with more dancing and the same amount of pizza. As you can imagine, with two little girls, I did really good with the dancing and pizza thing and, astonishingly, I made enough progress on that book that it looks like it might be a reality for this new year.

But I’ve been playing phone tag with my across-the-state friend for about six solid months, and it’s left me wondering why on earth that is the goal I couldn’t get to? I didn’t realize that “time for friends” thing would be so unrealistic. Oh man, how adults can complicate things?

I would like to blame it on that time thing, and how it piles on us ailments and responsibilities and big complicated feelings, but above all of that is how easily we can forget that time is a gift. And there’s nothing like the holidays, that space between Christmas and New Year’s Day spent with growing kids and aging parents, to remind you of a life that’s fleeting.

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Like my children will never again be 2 and 4 at Christmas. The reality struck me as I was dancing my way into the new year in my mother’s kitchen. She had the music on and her granddaughters were holding hands and twirling, sliding and stomping, skipping, clapping, giggling and shaking their tushies to the beat between the kitchen cabinets.

My 2-year-old, Rosie, is particularly into busting a move, and I found I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she waved her hands and wiggled, demanding us all to “watch this!” And that was classic Rosie, really, living the two years of her life with absolute abandon, with a life mission to do it herself, to make a mess and to get a laugh.

IMG_0690Over the past week, I had been pondering and discussing what I might put on my new year list — finish the new album, declutter our living spaces, start a compost bin, save more money — but everything I came up with felt like very adult tasks that should be on my list of everyday chores, satisfying and responsible maybe, but uninspired.

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Watching my young daughter in the kitchen that night, hair flying from her ponytail and into her face, feet bare, tongue out, letting her tiny body show the world what was inside her heart, I just really wished I could be her.

And that was it. Inspiration. I threw tangible to the weeds and wrote my list, not just for the new year, but for the new decade as I learn to embrace motherhood, friendships, aging and new phases.

I want to live life more like Rosie. And that looks like this:

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  1. If you want something done, do it yourself.

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  2. If you can’t get it done, holler for help.
  3. Wake up running, but embrace your naptime/bedtime.
  4. Worry less about what you look like and more about what you feel like.

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  5. And while you’re at it, remember: true fun is usually messy.

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  6. Ask for a taste of whatever they’re having.
  7. Push the limits, but know when to retreat to the tent in your room for a book and blankie break.
  8. Love. All. The. Animals.
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  9. When you do something good, make sure you know where they keep the treats.
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  10. Dance like you were made for it.

Happy New Year!

A new member of the cousin crew

Emma

My little sister gave birth to her second daughter on Nov. 22. They named her Emma Evangeline, Evangeline for our Gramma Edith’s middle names.

See, my grandma Edith had 11 brothers and sisters and at the time of her birth, each of her sisters got to pick out a name for her. And so she was Edith Evangeline Delores Linseth. Add the Veeder on the end of that when she got married and us grandkids had fun singing her name to the tune of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt… da da da da da da da…”

If I let my daughters name Emma, her name would be LaLa Sprinkle Pancake, so kids must have been more sophisticated back then…

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Rosie is obsessed

But anyway, Emma is fresh and squishy and looking like she’s always belonged here, all 9 pounds, 5 ounces of her. My daughters, husband and I had been waiting impatiently for her arrival, marking the date on the calendar, wondering if we’d have a cousin on one of their birthdays. But no, Emma has her own birthday, so that’s one thing she won’t have to share with her sister and cousins. For now anyway.

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Emma and her sister Ada

Welcome to the world, Emma Evangeline (center). Special to The Forum

Fast forward a year or so and I see some joint parties in her future, which, frankly, I would have loved to have with my cousins if they all lived closer. And so now officially my little sister and I are raising four little girls, aged 4, 2, 2 ½ and 0 in this wild and muddy place.

And depending on the moment, we are all doing just fine, but feel free to stop over anytime with a bottle of wine or a bottle of Advil. Or cookies would be good, too. Or chocolate…

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My little sister could probably use the chocolate about now. She and her family have been living in the 600-square-foot cabin on the ranch while they wait for their new house to be set over the hill from ours, right behind the barnyard where, coincidentally, a woman named Emma once lived and raised children of her own.

Emma was our great-aunt, married to our Grandpa Pete’s brother Lorraine. The two brothers farmed and ranched and raised children on this place in a different time. Ask their children and they will remember what living close to their cousins meant to them — a friend over the hill, small adventures, dirt bike ramps, mud pies and someone always there to witness, and maybe help harness, the near catastrophes they made for themselves.

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I wonder if those kids could have ever imagined another tiny Emma and spunky Edith living on those very same spots 50 years later?

Looking into Emma’s tiny face and running my fingers through her dark hair, I can’t help but flashback to the younger version of my little sister, Alex, loading up our mom’s pink hard-topped Samsonite suitcase and dragging it down the scoria road toward the mailbox after a disagreement with our mom. Alex was known for her hot-cheeked temper and knack for declaring a frustrating situation the “Wowst day of hew life!”

When our Grandma Edith drove down the road for a visit that afternoon and asked her what she was doing, my little sister replied “I’m wunning away from that witch!” She was running away to Gramma’s house, likely, but Gramma coming over for a visit sort of foiled her dramatic plans, and so she sat on the big rocks by the road and contemplated what she might do for supper before dragging that suitcase back home and making amends.

And so I guess what I’m saying here is:

1. I hope Emma turns out just like her mother.

2. I can’t wait for Emma (or Ada) to run away to my house. I will help them unpack their stuffed animals, give them Oreos and secretly call their mother to laugh about it.

Because judging by the beautiful and chaotic present, it’s apparent that we need one another. And we’re so incredibly lucky to be here together on this place.

Welcome to the world, Emma Evangeline Lala Sprinkle Pancake. We’re all here for you, girl. With chocolate.

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The Nutcracker experience…with a 4-year-old

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Last weekend, I took my 4-year-old daughter to the Moscow Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker.”

If I hadn’t been raised with grandparents who once took a 5-year-old me in a velvet dress and patent-leather Mary Janes to a performance of “Phantom of the Opera,” it might have never crossed my mind to drive my young daughter three hours to the big town to experience such a thing.

But I was. And I remember the feel of the big seat folding up and down underneath my small body, the melody of the music, magic of the stage lights and the weight of my eyelids as my grandpa’s arms carried me, sleepy, out into the night when the curtain fell.

Of course, Edie had never seen a ballet, but I told her she could wear the new sequin dress her great-grandparents sent her and I even put on a dress myself and lip gloss on us both to seal the deal and held out hope that the outfit wasn’t going to be her favorite part of the whole experience.

Let me tell you. I. Had. No. Idea.

Below is a rough transcript of about three of the 90 minutes of dialogue I had with my small daughter sitting in the seat next to me, whispering in my ear while snowflakes, sugarplum fairies, creepy looking mice, a nutcracker and countless ballet dancers leapt and twirled across a lit-up stage while the people around us tried to enjoy the show, despite the incessant narrative that was being asked of me.

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Ahem.

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Edie, coming up for air after the shock and wonder of the first dance.

Edie: “So is it really Christmas or are they pretending it’s Christmas?”

Me: “Well, it’s Christmas in the ballet, but technically, they’re just pretending it’s Christmas. It’s not Christmas today.”

Edie: “So is that a real nutcracker or is he just pretending to be a nutcracker? And is she a real doll? Or a person?”

Me: “They’re just pretending, but in the ballet, the magician is making them come to life.”

Edie: “Oh, look at those dresses. I want a dress like that when I grow up. I want a dress like that with no sleeves and sparkles and I want a prince. We’ll dance and get married. Are they married? Are these the same people in different outfits or different people? Where’s her blue dress? Why does she wear dress jammies? I have dress jammies. She has dress jammies like me.”

Me: “Shhh… whisper.”

Edie: “Do those boys have feet? I can’t see their feet. What kind of shoes are they wearing? Where’s the music coming from? Where are the speakers?”

Me: “There. Do you see them? No? They’re right there: Do you see those snowflakes? Gramma Beth performed this dance when she was young.”

Edie: “Gramma Beth? Gramma Beth was young? Are these dancers young? Do these dancers have grammas? Do they have mommies?”

Me: “Yes, they have mommies.”

Edie: “Where are their mommies? Where do their mommies live?”

Me: “Ugh, I guess in Russia.”

Edie: “Where’s Russia?”

Me: “Shhh, just watch. Look at those scary mice!”

Edie, looking away: “I don’t like those mice. Is this just pretend? What was that noise? What happened to the mouse?”

Me: “He fell down. The noise scared him. They took him to the hospital to be checked out. He’s OK.”

Edie: “Well, where is his mommy? Do the mice have mommies? I don’t see the doctors? Where’s the hospital? Does he have blood? Does he need a Band-Aid? Oh, look at that tutu! When I grow up, I want a tutu like that…”

And so on and so on until the lights went up, they all took a bow and Edie sat in her seat wondering if it was over.

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I didn’t have to ask her how she liked it, so I asked about her favorite part.

“All of it,” she exclaimed, and then I carried her up the stairs and out into the crisp night, her Cinderella jelly shoes dangling from her toes and my hope of an experience etched deep enough for her to remember some of it, if only the dresses with no sleeves and the seat that folded up beneath her.

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Just call me Martha Stewart

From now on, you can call me Martha Stewart
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Excuse me for a moment while I make an announcement.

It’s very important, something I never thought would happen to me in this lifetime, and I’m very proud of how far I’ve come in my life, so I feel the need to shout it from the rooftops.

Ahem: Yesterday, my friend called me for cooking advice.

Now this might not seem like a big deal at first glance. I mean, my little sister calls me about every time she’s in the grocery store for a reminder on how to make things like chili or slushburgers or how to properly boil an egg, but that’s my little sister, bless her and her domestically challenged soul. She makes me feel so superior.

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But this wasn’t my little sister, or my friend from college calling about that dip that goes over really well during the Super Bowl. No.

Ask this woman how to hard boil an egg and she’ll likely give you answers based on temperatures and yoke textures, because she’s made this sort of thing her living and dare I say, her expertise. She’s taught classes on food safety and nutrition and set up lesson plans on how to make things like butter in jars or how to properly pickle things so that you don’t give your friends botulism for Christmas.

Like, I mean, she’s probably never Googled “how to make chokecherry jelly” right before accidentally dumping a whole day’s worth of work down her kitchen sink and running to her room to lie facedown on her bed and cry. Not that I know of anyone who has, but anyway…

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This woman, my friend, is raising four growing children on a ranch 30 miles from the nearest grocery store or take-out restaurant and cooks for a crew of men at least twice a day. And I guarantee what she’s stirring up doesn’t come out of a yellow box and rhyme with “Mac the pony has fleas.”

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And I admire her. She once hosted a party where her friends got together to make freezer meals to plan ahead and I would have made it except for I was out on a highway somewhere in the middle of North Dakota in my car eating McDonald’s while my husband was at home feeding my children supper at 10 p.m., some sort of elaborate elk meat stew he likely took 64 hours to create.

Because my husband is the cook in the family. And in all reality, it’s likely because of him that my friend picked up the phone in the first place, because she knew that our family likes to make homemade noodles together, a tradition my husband picked up from his mother and her German heritage. And so after entering into my relationship with him boasting the cooking skills of someone who once left a failed Hamburger Helper attempt on the stove with a note, “I’ve gone to get cake,” I’m now pretty pleased to report that I can, indeed, pull off a pretty fail-proof homemade noodle.

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Which helps me with homemade pizza. And homemade knoephla. And homemade chicken noodle soup. Which was what my friend had attempted when she called with her question.

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A question, mind you, that had nothing to do with her failure and everything to do with her success. On the first try. Without 20 years of practice and guidance from her mother-in-law.

She wanted to know, like the domestic diva she is, if she could make the noodles ahead of time and cook them later. You know. Because she plans ahead.

And I was so excited she called me with such faith in my abilities in the kitchen that I seriously contemplated delivering her a completely made-up answer, if only that answer wouldn’t have put her entire family at risk of food poisoning. And so I told her I’d call my mother-in-law and get back to her right away. Which I did.

But still. She called me. And so I call that a cooking win.

And from now on, you can call me Martha Stewart. Thank you for listening.

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Time to gather

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It’s fall. Shipping season.

The leaves have stripped from their branches, the horses are hairing up against the cold, the grass is golden and the cows and calves look like black dots on the hillsides.

We’re getting ready to gather.

We’re fixing up corrals and fences, hauling hay off the fields, calling in the uncles and putting on our chaps and silk scarves and wool caps, gearing up like those horses for a season as unpredictable as it is predictable.

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On this ranch, we’re in the same transition period as our neighbors and friends. This is the season. We all know it well.

But I can’t help but notice how much this shift-over is mimicking our lives right now as I sit here trying to hash out my thoughts after another visit to the bank and the insurance agent and our small business development consultant. My husband meets me in town with the feed pickup, dressed in layers because he’s been fixing on the tractor. He smells like the men I grew up with, coming inside with the cold and the scent of diesel on their jackets, noses and cheeks flushed under unshaven faces.

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He looks sort of out of place in the seat of the beige bank office in his big boots and Carhart coat. We’re talking numbers and new business plans and what it’s going to take for him to make a living building garages and decks and tiling bathrooms and kitchens and refinishing barns and haying and feeding and raising cattle, all the things he’s always known, now officially declared as the plan. As his occupation. Carpenter. Rancher.

I’m his champion in my going-to-town clothes, the same way he’s been my champion in all of the weird leaps I’ve taken as an entrepreneur with a job title too long and unconventional for a business card. Now it looks like our cards might start looking the same.

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When we first got married, I remember a moment when we were driving down the road toward home after a long trip together somewhere, and we made ourselves a promise that if we were ever in a place that we didn’t quite feel ourselves, or if we noticed the other slipping or not laughing as much as we know them to, that we would stop right there and help each other figure a way out.

I’m not sure exactly how the pact came to be, but I remember the road whizzing by outside my passenger window and I remember the lump in my throat dissolving with the breath I took after we declared it.

My husband and I talk dreams and plans for this ranch and our work almost every day. I don’t know if that’s a thing that everyone does, but we do it.

We lie in bed after the kids are finally sleeping and we hash it out, or we sit together in the noise and interruptions of our house and we make mental lists. We stand in the dark of our kitchen after I get home late and we recap and scheme.

And sometimes I don’t feel like thinking about it because it overwhelms me, but I listen.

And sometimes he is distracted by a phone call or a crying kid, but he comes back to it, to help me find my place again.

Because it’s important. Because you can’t see 10 years down the line, you can’t reach out and touch the plans, those dreams we have. And so we speak them out loud into the space between us.

Because it’s a new season and we’re getting ready to gather…

Rose soap and the woodwork of our memories…

Lasting memories of my great grandma

When I was in kindergarten, I lived in Grand Forks with my family in a small white stucco house by the Red River.

I don’t remember too much about this time in my life, except the blond neighbor girl named Jenny, my blue bicycle, drinking Dad’s cold coffee in his basement office, my little sister’s run-in with a hornet’s nest, my sparkly jelly shoes and my Great-Grandma Rognlie. Actually, her name was Eleanor, but we called her by her last name because she was the kind of woman who took formalities seriously.

She lived in a red house a few blocks away from our little white one by the river dike, and every day I would walk there to spend time with her in those free and unplanned hours kids used to have between after school and suppertime.

And that time for me as a little girl meant saltine crackers arranged on a plate and spread with peanut butter, reading books with her giant light-up magnifying glass at her antique fold-down desk, watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS while laying on the carpet in front of her couch with the birds on it and her screened-in porch and her garden and this sophisticated woman with immaculate hair that was curled and styled every Tuesday at the salon.

When I pull from my memory, I realize that walking into my great-grandmother’s house was like walking into a different time that smelled like rose soap, tasted like frosted gingerbread cookies from the bakery and looked like a woman who worked to make money so she could put a roof over the heads and food in the mouths of two boys by herself in a time when women didn’t do those things without a man in the house, or at least they didn’t dare declare it.

But I didn’t know that about her then. I didn’t know how strong she was or the sacrifices she made or how hard it must have been or how proud it made her to see both those boys go on to graduate from universities, marry good women, contribute to their communities, succeed in their careers and raise children of their own.

I just knew she let me have Juicy Fruit gum and play her old piano and try on her fancy hats and shoes and she would order my sisters and me things from the Lillian Vernon catalog. And I knew that she always had a tablecloth on her table and a centerpiece and a game of Skip-Bo or Uno or Wheelbarrow or Solitaire and that she took the time to play cards with me after “Mister Rogers” and before my dad came to pick me up.

And on Sundays, I knew that she liked to take us all out to the Village Inn where I’d get three crayons and a paper menu and a pancake with that little dollop of whipped cream and I better behave.

And I knew that she had another husband later in her life, because I saw him in a black-and-white picture framed in her hallway, but I didn’t know him because I wasn’t born yet when he died, or maybe I was, I just wouldn’t remember, but somehow I knew that they didn’t have enough time together. None of us who love really do, do we?

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And I’m thinking of my Grandma Rognlie today because last night I watched my mom, dressed for the occasion, help my little Rosie put on her peacoat to head out the door of a theater event and I swear I could smell her grandmother’s rose soap…

And it occurred to me there is no way for my daughters to understand the complicated, compassionate, strong and beautiful story that lies within my mother. I can only hope that one day they will all grow old enough to ask the questions, woman to woman.

But right now, they know they’ll always find M&M’s in her drawer conveniently placed at their height, and on Thursday she’ll take my oldest to dance and then for a smoothie at her coffee shop and then the two sisters will run and play under the racks at her store until it’s time to head back to the ranch without sidewalks.

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And my daughters, they don’t know it now, but when they grow older these moments will lie quiet in the woodwork of their memories, waiting there for them when they close their eyes, searching for a way to feel safe and special and loved.

And they may never know the full story, and they surely won’t remember much about being small, but they will remember what matters, and it will always matter: that red house, that rose soap, that card game, those M&Ms, that Juicy Fruit gum…

Community runs on heartbeats

8. Great Grandma Gudrun and Great Grandpa Severin Linseth and their 12 children Edith Linseth Veeder is center in the plaidCommunity runs on heartbeats

Some days, I imagine my great-grandmother Gudrun at 17 years old, standing with her hands on her hips, 1,000 miles from everything familiar to her, looking around the place, the wind whipping her dark hair and long dress, wondering how she wound up so far away from the fjords of Norway.

Wondering how she was going to do it. Wondering what might come next.

And then I imagine her taking a big breath, letting it out quickly, and getting to work.

In her nearly 100 years of living out along the edge of the Badlands in western North Dakota, she raised 12 children — 14 if you count the ones she didn’t give birth to — and helped establish a church and a school, crops and cattle. She served as a “midwife,” before midwife was a term, delivering babies in houses on the prairie and teaching her daughters to do the same when they were needed.

I was raised 2 miles from where my great-grandmother raised those children, one of them who was my grandma Edith, the woman I named my first daughter after.

While my grandma Edith was growing up, down the road from her was a young man who laid claim to a homestead when he was just a teenager. He was married, went to war, came home and lost his wife when my grandpa Pete, the youngest of four, was just a child.

And who was there to help him with raising those children when he was trying to raise the crops and the cattle? Gudrun’s oldest daughters.

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately as I watch the community where I was raised continue to work to meet the demands of an ever-growing population. Everything from groceries to day care to schools to housing is stretched and moving and shifting every day. Back when my great-grandmother was raising her family, community meant survival — and I can’t help but notice how much that rings true to us all in the middle of this booming town.

Although I think it’s easy to lose sight of it in a time when our access to technology and everything from diapers to refrigerators can be delivered to our doors.

Because community also means support. And support, now more than ever, means working to understand one another by sharing our stories, our concerns, our needs, our ideas and working beyond our differences and finding a way to go beyond survive and into thrive.

I had no idea when I was singing for my supper, driving up and down the middle of the Midwest alone with my guitar at a time when people were moving away instead of back, that I would be married to my high school boyfriend and living at the ranch that raised me before I hit 30 years old. And I certainly didn’t have any idea that would be possible because, suddenly, the opportunities in my hometown would be saving people’s dreams.

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Where would we be if we weren’t tied here by blood and history? Would we be here anyway?

Last week, my neighbor called. She was raised a mile up the road from me in a time where we could still ride our bikes down the middle of the county road. She came home to start a business and raise her kids on her family’s ranch. I came home to do the same.

“The kids set up a lemonade stand on the corner by the highway, come over if you have a minute.”

And so my little sister and I loaded up our three little girls and headed to the highway to meet her and her husband and her dad and her mom and her four kids holding up “Get Your Lemonade Here” signs as trucks and pickups slowed down and pulled over to buy a cup and a Rice Krispies bar made by the next generation.

Times change. Our little country road is filled with daddies and mommies and sisters and brothers and husbands and wives and daughters and sons on their way to work and home again.

I stand on that road with my hands on my hips, wondering what the future holds in a world that has somehow become bigger and smaller at the same time, determined to do what it takes, and to never forget that it runs on heartbeats.

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Country living and grocery store fails

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If only we had an endless garden year round to keep me from the grocery store…

Why do I make the easiest tasks so difficult?

Country living and grocery store fails

Last night, I did that thing where you have 30 minutes between work and day care pickup to power shop the grocery store and restock the essentials while planning a week’s worth of meals in your head because the list you have on hand only says “eggs and milk,” but the list in your head screams, “You’re all going to be living off of Daddy’s secret stash of ramen noodles if I put this grocery shopping trip on the back burner one more day…”

So yeah, I did that thing where I hang out between the canned beans and the pickles and text my husband about the level of our flour supply and he texts back that I should pick up some whiskey. And then I check the time and power walk through the cereal and freezer sections, throwing in a couple pizzas for good measure on my way to the checkout with a cart so full I have to hold the big family-sized box of frozen lasagna under one arm like a spectacle of the failed ranch wife and mother I’ve become.

And even though I had to take out a second mortgage on the house to pay the bill, I somehow managed to forget the most urgent of my husband’s requests: dog food and whiskey. But I’m proud to say, when it came to toilet paper and ranch dressing, my Midwestern country living instincts didn’t let me down, because, well, girlfriend don’t want to be stranded…

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But I think those instincts are also to blame for the reason I brought home my fourth box of Minute Rice for the pantry shelves that currently house 17 jars of mayo, bags and bags of dry beans we’ve never ever cooked with in our entire lives, a bigger noodle selection than the Olive Garden and enough oatmeal to feed a branding crew if we were facing down the apocalypse.

Oh, and because I’m always inspired by the beautiful produce aisle and my snug-fitting jeans, I decided I’m going to start eating healthier, once and for all. So I bought a giant container of mixed greens for all of the salads in my future… Mind you, that was before the aforementioned panicked, time-crunched walk through the freezer section for last-minute chicken nuggets, but I digress.

Because after I got all of my wares and two toddlers into the house in a record-breaking (and arm-breaking, and back-breaking) two trips, I realized I must have had that same salad conversation with myself last time I was at the grocery store when I discovered the same exact container of mixed greens sitting untouched in my produce drawer.

So I did what every goal-oriented and focused career woman, wife and mother of two would do when faced with that moment of clarity — I poured us all big bowls of Peanut Butter Crunch for supper, called my sister to see if she could use some fresh lettuce and called it a day.

Because there’s always tomorrow, and tomorrow we’re having salad… and dry beans… and Minute Rice…

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Or garden tomatoes….

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Or homemade noodles (if I have flour) 

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