Celebrity sightings…

Ok, here’s this week’s column on celebrity sightings…

And just for the record, mom swears it was Kenny G because he was carrying a horn…

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Here’s to celebrities. May we all be at our coolest when we run into them in a hotel lobby.

Or on the trail…

Celebrity story the right fit for Western ND woman
by Jessie Veeder
9-11-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

My mom claims she saw Kenny G once in a hotel lobby in Fargo. It’s probably true. I mean, I think he was playing somewhere in the area that weekend, but then, it could have also just been a woman with long hair and a perm. It was the ’90s after all, and I think she only saw the back of his head.

Mom’s not much of a football fan, but she does appreciate a brush with fame as much as anybody, even if she can’t remember what team the guy played for.

Or his name.

Yes, it seems like we all have our signature celebrity-spotting story that we bust out at parties or for the 300th time at the family supper table, as if a run-in with a person of international credibility makes us a little more impressive ourselves.

Being a local musician, I’ve had my faIr share of meet and greets with famous performers throughout the years, most involving a backstage handshake, an obligatory photo and a hurry-up-and-get-your-stuff-off-the-stage nod because you’re the opening act.

But last weekend, my husband reminded me of the celebrity story I only tell if I’ve had one or two extra glasses of wine, rendering me ready for things like embarrassing confessions about an awkward college sophomore’s wardrobe malfunction in the wilderness with two professional cowboys as witness.

After a re-evaluation, I think enough time has passed now to revisit it here. I feel like it’s my duty, in the name of entertainment.

Anyway, out here in western North Dakota, we regard successful horse trainers and rodeo cowboys as celebrities. And during the summer of my sophomore year of college, I was invited to participate in a unique event where locals saddled up to ride and camp the Maah Daah Hey Trail through the Badlands with the famous Texas horse trainer Craig Cameron.

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Now, for those of you who don’t know, Craig is like the Kenny G of horse training, the NFL star quarterback of equine expertise, and I was invited along as an amateur journalist to document the experience for an equine magazine because, by some luck, the professional reporter scheduled for the gig was sick or giving birth or something.

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And so that’s how I found myself in the Badlands atop one of our more spirited horses, riding alongside a handsome Texas gentleman with a thick southern drawl and a skinny Texas cowboy butt and his professional bull rider friend with a thicker drawl and an even skinnier rear.

Now, the butt detail is a little morsel I would normally reserve for cocktails with my girlfriends. But it’s an important visual here because, while it was a minor detail I took note of as those cowboys unloaded their gear at the trailhead, it became extremely relevant when, on Day Two of the ride, I was face to face with those two skinny cowboys discussing pants sizes and wishing I would have packed cuter underwear.

Because the entire crew could see them, plaid and ratty and poking through the giant rip I tore in the rear of my jeans as I swung on my horse that morning.

Which would be embarrassing enough if I left it at that, except that I had already done the same thing the day before and, well, now I was out of jeans.

And so there I was, standing before two professional southern celebrity gentlemen as they so generously offered a solution to my wardrobe crisis, prairie wind blowing through my britches, wishing I wouldn’t have indulged in late-night Alfredo noodles every evening for supper my freshman year because, unless I wanted a weird case of saddle rash, I was going to have to squeeze my carb-loving badunkadunk into the famous Craig Cameron’s size 28 Wranglers and face the rest of the trail.

So that’s what I did.

And while it’s no Kenny G sighting in the hotel lobby, it seems my mortifying celebrity story, er, fits me just right.

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An old story

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Pops turned 60 on Tuesday.

A few weeks ago we had a big birthday party for him, complete with noodle salads and dessert, music on the porch, BYOB and a big board of embarrassing photos his sister drug out of the archives and presented.

My Aunt K. is the family historian. And now that she’s newly retired, she has the time to dedicated to embarrassing her brother just like in the olden days.

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Anyway, this week his brother is up from Texas and they are fixing fences, riding through cows and catching up.

I love it when family comes to the ranch. I especially love it when we’re around the supper table or chatting over drinks on the deck and old stories come up about the time when they were kids and their dad had a load of bulls on the truck in a cattle rack and forgot to latch the dump chain, successfully delivering the entire load of Charolais bulls on their butts in the yard.

“It was a pile of white bovine flesh,”* said Uncle W.

“And dad got out of the truck and started swearing and kicking at the chickens,” said Pops.

“And mom probly saw the whole thing from the kitchen window, but there was a back door on that house and she probly hightailed it outside to the garden…”

And there’s a million more where that came from.

But here’s one that Aunt K. told the night of the party about my dad as a little boy. I can’t remember how old now, but I imagine him seven or so, brown hair, brown skin, chubby cheeks and husky jeans.

He was riding in the car on the highway with his dad and spotted a road kill raccoon likely on its way to resembling a furry pancake due to its high traffic position on the road.

And he made his dad pull over so that the little seven-year-old version of my dad could scoop up that poor flattened soul and put it in a plastic bag.

“I know that animals get hit out here,” he explained to his father. “But it just isn’t right to let people keep running over him like that.”

And so his dad drove the tiny savior and the poor varmint his son scraped up back to the ranch where he received a proper burial.

And if that story doesn’t sum up what type of man he is, well then, I don’t know what else to tell you about the guy.

Except happy 60th dad. We love you.

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*the Bulls were fine :) 

Sunday Column: On a memory named Pooper

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It’s raining, the grass is getting greener and the calves are being born. I love this time of year where things are fresh and new and there’s nothing ahead of us but the promise of warmer weather (after a couple spring snow storms that leave us holding our breath of course).

The bottle calf in the barn has made me a little nostalgic and I’m having a flashback of a bottle calf my little sister and I took care of back when I was the boss and she didn’t care…

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Coming Home: Everything is better with some cows around
by Jessie Veeder
4-17-16
InForum
http://www.inforum.com 

Calving season is in full force here at the ranch, and this year it’s extra special for my husband and I because part of the new herd we’re building is our own.

And by better, by no stretch of the word does he mean easier. If I learned anything in my life it’s that better doesn’t always mean easier. (I’ve found this to be true in ranching and in motherhood.)

Anyway, it could be the green grass sprouting up on the hilltops or a little hope of warm rain in the forecast that sends us outside with the enthusiasm of a kindergartner with a new backpack on her first day of school, but I know it’s those cows grazing on the hilltop and the babies trying out their new legs beside them.

Last week, one of our best new cows gave birth to twins. I was in Bismarck with Mom and Edie at a singing job when I got a text with a photo from Dad telling me the news. My little sister, my mom and my husband all got the same message and I smiled at the realization that we’re living in an age where my dad sends group texts to his family about cows.

This morning one of those twin babies is waiting for me in the barn because, as it goes sometimes with animals, the cow didn’t recognize the second twin as hers.

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So I’m her momma now, a job I happily volunteered for because feeding babies is something I know how to do, and it’s not just due to my new role as a mom.

I have pretty vivid memories of all of the bottle calves we had when I was a kid growing up out here. One in particular left a big mark on my sister and I, mainly for the role that little calf played in our epic, sisterly fights.

I was 12 and so I pretty much knew everything, and my little sister was 7 and not as eager as she should have been at being bossed by me.

The calf, lovingly named Pooper, became our responsibility and part of our daily chores, which we eagerly took on in the beginning. Because, in the beginning, calves are adorable and have yet to grow into a 150-pound puppy on legs who has figured out two little girls are his only food source, and coincidentally has also figured out how to escape his pen in order to chase them down the road after the empty bottle, tongue out, bellering, head down in feeding position in case he caught up to one.

And he always caught up to one; it just was never this one. Because I employed the age-old advice: Want to survive a bear attack? Just be faster than the guy you brought with you.

Turns out my little sister never forgave me for it. Last weekend I took her down to the barn to have a look at the new baby, and she started getting the cold sweats. Instead of seeing an innocent newborn creature, Alex was having flashbacks of snowpants full of slobber, swift head butts to her rear and unanswered cries for help directed at a big sister sprinting to the house half a mile away, leaving her to suffer a terrifying death by the tongue of a baby calf.

Apparently, the times we spent together feeding Pooper were the first times she heard me cuss like a sailor, knocking me off my very low pedestal. I know because she brings it up at family dinners, holidays and probably the toast she made at my wedding.

Needless to say, my little sister will find different ways to help with the cattle business. Like babysitting Edie.

And I don’t blame her. It’s not easy playing momma to a baby with a giant head and four wobbly legs, especially when you’re feeding her with one hand and trying to put the pacifier back into your human baby’s mouth with the other.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Because everything is better with some cows around.

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Sunday Column: The Red Guitar

A couple weeks ago at a show, I met a man who suggested that I write a few columns about my guitars. He is in a band himself and had seen me play a few times, and had taken notice of my different guitars, and being a musician he knew there was likely a story behind them.

So this week I took him up on that suggestion (it was a good suggestion) and wrote about one of the most important guitars in my life.

Coming Home: From first memory to now, guitars hold an elusive sway
by Jessie Veeder
4-10-16
Forum Communications

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I love guitars. I love the way they look sitting in the corner of a house. I love how they feel in my hands; the new ones shiny with promise of the music that is to come, the old ones worn from years of picking.

Because you know how everyone has a first memory? That moment you look back on where you were the youngest version of yourself you knew. Maybe it’s only a few moments in time, but it was so powerful that you hang onto it hard and forever, whether you want to or not.

That memory is a guitar to me, dancing in the basement of our old house while my dad played his red Guild and sang a song I don’t remember. But I do remember the brown shag carpet and how he wore his hair a little too long and how his wide, leathery fingers eclipsed the strings at the neck as he swayed back and forth and tapped his foot, just a little bit off of the rhythm of the song he was singing and picking — the same way he does today. And I remember wanting him to let me pluck the strings on my own, so I could make the music come from that mysterious instrument.

That red guitar.

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The guitar still remains a mystery to me, how six strings touched the right way can produce sounds that make you laugh and cry and tap your toes or sing words you didn’t even know you had in you.

It’s amazing that the sounds coming out of a body made of wood can be so different depending on who’s touching it. I’m in awe that a guitar can transform a campfire, a living room or a makeshift stage into a world where love is lost and found, real cowboys still exist, summer always stays.

Yes, the guitar remains elusive to me even though every person in my family, as a sort of right of passage, owns their own version of the instrument, tucked away in basements or propped up next to the piano or the living room couch. It’s a necessity. Whether or not you ever learn to play it, you need it there next to you in case you or a guest are ever so inclined.

I’ve had in my possession a number of guitars in my life, all given to me by my dad based on his judgment on what would be the best fit for me. From the old Taylor I play today to the green Takamine I got when I convinced my parents that the guitar was more my instrument than the saxophone I played in band class, so we traded it in, as my dad does with guitars and horses.

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I found out later that’s what happened with the red Guild. I showed interest in taking up an instrument for band class in fourth grade and so dad traded it for a saxophone.

Oh, if guitars could talk! I suppose I could say that for instruments of all kind, but I’m partial to the guitar. I think they’d have the best stories.

That red Guild found its way back to the ranch eventually, another of dad’s trades of an amp or a banjo, so that he could pass that guitar along to my little sister when she went to college. I liked to imagine her sitting behind it, so far away from the buttes of the ranch, closing her eyes, plucking the strings and hearing the sounds of home.

That Guild sits in its case propped up in the corner of the house she now shares with her husband, holding in it stories about her dad playing in bar bands and coffeehouses before she was born and memories of three little girls twirling, laughing and singing along in the basement of a little old house.

Yes, all of the guitars I’ve possessed have given me something — confidence, my first song, a stronger voice. But it’s the one I never owned, the one that gave me my first chord and let loose the music inside of me, that has been my greatest gift.

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Sunday Column: The boy on the hill

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Longtime blog readers might remember this story. I stumbled across it in the archives last week while I was revisiting some of my writing as I contemplate putting together a book.

Yes.  A book. Because I’m not sleeping anyway, so I might as well start another project.

Anyway, in those archives there’s lots about the weather and family and what the landscape looks like as it goes on changing every day.

And then there are little snippets of conversations, glimpses into our lives, past and present. These are my favorites.

Sunday Column: Family lore lingers around Sunday dinner table
by Jessie Veeder
3-20-16
Forum Communications
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Most Sundays we get together with Mom and Dad for dinner. After a week of work and crazy schedules, one of us decides that someone should cook a decent meal, pour some wine and make us all sit down.

Recently, Dad shared a story about his childhood that I’m sure I’ve heard dozens of times before. But it doesn’t matter.

I want to exist in this 10-minute vignette of my father that somehow sums up everything he became here on this landscape.

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I love the way he tells it, sitting at the end of the table, plate pushed forward, arms folded, coffee brewing for dessert. He looks to the ceiling as if he might catch a glimpse of that little boy, 4 years old with curly black hair riding bareback on a paint pony alongside his father. He throws his head back, squeezes his eyes shut and laughs.

It’s fall or summer, he can’t remember, but I imagine the leaves were just starting to turn as the pair trotted out of the barnyard, the little boy on his father’s trail moving east toward the reservation where the cattle graze in the summer.

He’s not sure why his father took him along for an almost 7-mile one-way cross-country trip. He thinks now that it might have been a little extreme, but ask him then and it was all he wanted to do. Leave him behind? He would have tried to follow.

The pastures out east, even today, are some of the most isolated and untouched places out here. The rolling buttes rise and fall for miles between fences into creek bottoms with black mud and cattails. The oak groves, bordered by thorny bull berry brush and thistle, begin to blend into one another and look the same.

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So there he was, a little boy clinging tight to that pony as it jumped over the creek and raced up side hills to keep up. And it was at the top of one of those rocky hills that he was told to stay and wait.

“Don’t move,” his father said as he made plans to check the tricky creek bottoms for cattle. “I’ll come back for you.”

So my father waited on his pony, wind flopping his hat and moving fluffy clouds over the buttes.

Dad searches for more recollection in his coffee cup and then rests his chin on his fist. He remembers he didn’t move, he just scanned the hills and squinted into the oak trees. And while he was peering into that horizon, holding the reins of his pony, someone did come over that hill. But it wasn’t his father. It was a girl with long black hair and legs dangling on each side of her bare-backed horse.

“Can you imagine what she thought?” my father chuckles at the memory of this girl, who he recalls was a teenager, but was probably only about 10 or 11 years old.

She asked him if he was OK and if he was lost. He told her that he wasn’t supposed to leave this spot. That his dad was coming back for him.

So she stayed with that little boy with curly hair on that hilltop, likely joining him in holding her breath and scanning the horizon for any sign of a cowboy hat.

He doesn’t remember how long she sat with him. When you’re 4 years old, 10 minutes can seem like hours.

But it doesn’t matter. She stayed until that little boy had an escort through the valleys and over the creeks, back west to the barnyard and to his mother waiting with canned meat, biscuits and a report of the day’s events.

So he told his mother his adventure, and for years to come this would be one of their family’s stories shared over and over again at Sunday meals, about a little boy who found a girlfriend out east on the hilltop.

And as my father protested, they would throw back their heads, close their eyes and laugh.

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Sunday Column: Haunted

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Another Halloween has come and gone and, although I this year didn’t find me traipsing around to parties dressed as my favorite farm animal, it did get me thinking, for some reason, about the origin of this all.

The art of the spook.

Mysterious things left behind.

And the definition of haunting.

Because out here we’re surrounded by a history that has left behind artifacts for us to contemplate, old abandoned farm houses, out buildings or shacks that many midwesterners have standing on their properties, out in fields or cow pastures, little snippets of stories of who used to live there hanging in the air as dinner table discussion or campfire ghost stories, leaving us to wonder who was here before.

So this week I dug back in my memory to reflect on an old homestead that used to sit up behind the house where I grew up…and all of the things we leave behind….

Screen shot 2015-11-02 at 12.49.51 PMComing Home: Items left behind in abandoned houses create
ghost stories for us country kids
by Jessie Veeder
11-1-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

It’s a gloomy day, the rain is falling, the sky is gray and the trees are stripped from black branches. It’s Halloween season and all of the sudden I’m reminded of the old house that used to sit up in a grove of trees behind the yard where I grew up.

It’s not so uncommon around here for a family to purchase land from neighbors or inherit an old family homestead, so there aren’t many farmsteads around these parts that didn’t come with an old structure lingering on the property, providing ranch kids with plenty of bedtime ghost story material.

And so it went with the old house that stood tucked back on the other side of the barbed wire fence, against a slope of a hill, surrounded by oak trees and the remnants of Mrs. B’s famous garden. Her hearty lilac bushes, her grove of apple trees, her wild asparagus and rhubarb still thrived in the clearing she made in those trees all those mysterious years ago before the family up and left, leaving that garden untended, the root cellar full and a house seemingly frozen in time.

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“What happened to them?” I would contemplate with my cousins, one of our favorite subjects as our eyes grew heavy, tucked in bunk beds and sleeping bags scattered on the floor, together growing up, together trying to figure out what the passing of time really means and how a story could be left so undone.

Gramma took some old dresses, vintage black smocks with pearl buttons and lace collars, from the small bedroom closet of the old house. We would pull them over our heads to perform pretend wedding ceremonies or attend fancy parties like we saw on our mothers’ soap operas, the fabric smelling like mothballs, dust and old forgotten things.

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But no matter what character you were that day, you couldn’t help but think about who the real woman in those dresses once was.

And who would leave them behind?

So, as it goes with kids, our curiosity outweighed our fear and we went on a mission to collect samples of this family’s life that still existed between those walls.

And while I remember kitchen utensils hanging neatly on hooks, canned beets and potatoes lined up on shelves, the table and chairs sitting in the sunlight against the window, waiting for a neighbor to stop over for coffee, I also remember bedrooms scattered with old newspapers and magazines, the dates revealing the last years of occupancy, the fashion of the season, stories of drought and cattle prices sprawled out among diary entries and old letters, a glimpse into a world that existed long before us kids sifting through the rubble in tennis shoes with neon laces.

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And then I remember the dentures. Or maybe I just remember the story my oldest cousin told about the dentures. It doesn’t matter now who was actually there to witness it, it evolved to belong to everyone. An expedition to the old house, a creak of a cupboard door, a jar full of teeth that nobody noticed before.

“The place is haunted.” That was the consensus, especially when, at the next visit, the unwelcome house guests were greeted at the door by a flurry of bats (or, more likely, a bat or two). Yes, the spirits of that mysterious couple came back to the place. How else could you explain the thriving asparagus plants? The teeth?!

And so that was our story of the old house, a mysteriously fantastic pillar of our childhood adventures and a structure that had to eventually be burned down due to its disintegrating floor joists and general unsafe environment.

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I stood in my snowsuit and beanie and watched the flames engulf the graying wood and shoot up over the tops of the black oak trees and wondered how it all eventually came down to this … a life turned into old forgotten things, turned into ashes, turned into stories.

Maybe that’s the scariest tale of them all.

But each fall the apples in the old woman’s orchard ripen, each spring her lilacs bloom and each year their names come to our lips because of what they left behind, making me wonder if we were right about the haunting thing after all.

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Sunday Column: The good ‘ol fashioned coffee break…

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In this time of texting, messaging, emailing, Instagramming, Tweeting, Facebooking, Pinteresting, Parascoping and all of the other digital ways I haven’t learned about yet that allow us to communicate with the entire world with a click of a button, sometimes it just really nice to have a friend that will drive 30 miles out of her way (with soup) for a good ‘ol fashioned visit.
Because of all of the things we might invent to bring us closer, nothing compares to the original–sitting close and hearing each other laugh out loud.

Coming Home: Impromptu visits still important in modern, hectic life

by Jessie Veeder
10-12-15


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Last week, a friend drove from town with her young son and a pot of soup to our house in the middle of nowhere on a mission to have a lunch date.

It was a regular Monday afternoon, and I was working from home. When I work from home, I don’t get things like “lunch dates.”

Because I can’t just pop out to my favorite sandwich place to meet a friend.

No.

Out here, my lunch date is watching the cows walk by the yard on their way to the dam to water as I sit down in front of my computer with a summer sausage sandwich I threw together in haste.

So needless to say, it was nice to have company, a cheerful face with a red-headed toddler in tow to liven up this empty midday house a bit.

It was a simple gesture, one that had us chatting about mommyhood and our growing town, the nice fall weather and the story about how my husband and I got the pickup stuck smack in the middle of a muddy road the night before and had to be pulled out. Because it’s been raining, and this is still a wild and inconveniently unpredictable place sometimes, despite and because of oil industry action.

And this wild place doesn’t typically lend itself to town friends making the long trip out just for a quick visit and a bowl of soup. Usually it’s the other way around, and then when we get to town, we make sure to stop at the bank, get some groceries, grab a piece for the broken water tank at Tractor Supply and generally try to fit in what we can before heading back home.

But my friend’s visit got me thinking about lunch dates and coffee breaks and how we’re spending our suppertime and our downtime. If you look at it all together, those little in-between moments, the pauses in the work and the regular routine, add up to some of the really good (and dare I say best) parts of our lives.

What are we doing with those little moments? Who are we spending them with?

Now, I remember a lot of things about growing up out here — the freedom to roam about and play in the hills, riding horses and chasing cows, big birthday parties and family gatherings — but what holds unexpectedly warm memories for me are the coffee visits.

As a kid, of course, I wasn’t there for the coffee. I would tag along with my parents up the hill to the neighbors’ for a chance to play with my friends on their tire swing before coming in for a glass of Kool-Aid and catching pieces of conversation and laughter coming from the adults sitting around the counter.

From them we learned about humor and gossip and what it sounds like to offer up help, concern and well-intended advice. We learned how to weave a story and get to the punch line, we learned what trust looked like, and we learned that you should keep cookies or bars around, especially on the weekends, in case someone stops by.

And in all of those lessons learned over Kool-Aid and coffee, I can’t help but wonder now, in this fast-paced world I’ve found myself in, did I hold on tight enough to the lesson of simple time spent together? Messy house or clean. Work done or work looming. Who cares if you’re caught in your ugly cleaning sweatpants on a Saturday morning?

I feel like in the hectic schedule we’ve made for ourselves, riddled with deadlines and ranch work and housework, I might have slowly lost the art and importance of the impromptu visit.

With a baby on the way, somehow my friend’s visit, with her toddler and his backpack full of toy cars in tow, reminded me of the importance of doors open, coffee on and simply swinging by, no matter how far down that highway a neighbor is.

Because this busy life we’ve created isn’t just about tasks and goals, but about feeding our souls with a homemade cookie and a little conversation to remind us we’re in it together.

So keep the coffee on, friends, we’re coming over.

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Sunday Column: How ranch people become lake people

Lake Sakakawea Sunset

It’s been hot out there lately. I just pulled my first harvest from the ground in my garden and it got me thinking about the long, hot weekends spent on the ranch when I was a kid.

Back before we had a boat just a couple lawn chairs and a cooler full of pop and juice boxes to lug to the shores of Lake Sakakawea, on days like this my sisters and I would come up with a plan to get a chance to swim in that big lake that was so close to the house (well like 20 mile or so) we could smell them catching fish out there.

At least that ‘s what we’d tell dad in our subtle suggestion that maybe baling hay could wait for the day.

Maybe it was time to hit the lake.

A few weeks ago I met a young girl who said she reads my column in the paper every Sunday. I thanked her for being such a loyal follower and asked her what she would like to read more about.

“Oh, I like the stories about your childhood,” she said.

And so, inspired by her and a recent trip to the lake where we loaded up the coolers, sunflower seeds, summer sausage sandwiches, nephew, sisters, gramma and grampa and headed to the big water on the new pontoon only to hit the water just in time for rain, I decided to write about the simpler days, enjoying the short lived summer on the “beaches” of that big body of water…

Coming Home: When the day’s just right, ranch people become lake people
by Jessie Veeder
7-19-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com 

It’s hard for ranch people to be lake people.

Between trying to keep the cows in the fences, the hay baled and the lawn mowed, there’s not much time left to spend an afternoon with a fishing pole in one hand, a beer in the other and your feet up on the dash of a fancy boat.

But when you live so close to the biggest lake in the state that you swear you can see it from that hill out east if the sky is clear and you tilt your head just right, it’s pretty hard not to work a few lake days into the schedule.

When I was growing up, a chance at a lake day meant the conditions had to line up just right to make my dreams of jumping off a flat rock on the shore into the cold, deep, murky water of Lake Sakakawea.

First, it had to be Saturday or Sunday, and both my parents needed to be home with plans on doing something that was utterly miserable to accomplish in the blazing 90-degree heat.

Which means that, secondly, it had to be either the month of July or August, and said blazing 90-degree heat had to magically fall on a Saturday or Sunday.

Now, we all know how rare it is that those two circumstances converge, but when they did, we girls needed to be on it. We needed to wake up with the scent of the lake in our nostrils, ready to feel things out and set the plan in motion.

Maybe Dad would come in from working on a broken-down baler, all sweaty and fed up in the already hot midmorning sun. Maybe Mom was in her shorts pulling weeds from the walkway, stopping every so often to put her hands on her hips and shield her eyes.

Maybe the bugs were a little bad out there because the wind wasn’t blowing and it wasn’t quite noon, and so I took the opportunity to walk out and pull a few weeds myself, sure to mention what a great day it would be for a little swim in the lake.

And then maybe we caught Dad in the house splashing water on his face at the kitchen sink so I said something about how I heard that the fish were biting up at McKenzie Bay while my little sister was out digging worms in the garden, and pretty soon the seed was planted. Mom started whipping up summer sausage sandwiches, Dad started hunting for the old tackle box on the garage shelf where he left it the previous July, and my sisters and I packed up our favorite beach towels, pulled on our swimsuits, loaded the lawn chairs in the back of the old pickup, grabbed a bag of sunflower seeds and milled around in the driveway waiting impatiently in the hot sun, but not saying a word as our parents made the slow migration toward the vehicle.

Now, back in the youth of our family, there was no budget for things like boats or Jet Skis, so we didn’t have to fuss with that. No. Our biggest concern was avoiding the potholes on the worn highway, leaving the windows open so we could spit seeds and cool down, and, when that big lake appeared before us in the windshield like an oasis nestled in the hot cliffs of the Badlands, it was our mission to find an acceptable “beach” on those rocky, weedy and muddy shores.

Lake Sakakawea

And for us, “beach” meant that the legs of Mom’s lawn chair didn’t sink in to her butt when she sat down, the poky Canadian thistle didn’t reach all the way to shore and that there was at least an acceptable amount of sand and/or flat rocks where we could throw out our beach towels, make our picnic, stick a fishing pole in the ground, eat our sandwiches and watch the fancy boats and Jet Skis drive by before finding a place to wash the heat, work and worry of the summer off in the waves of a lake that belonged to us for the few sweet, relaxing, fly-bitten hours that we, too, transformed into lake people.

Lake Sakakawea  

So it goes with love, land and family…

Veeder Ranch Centennial Card

Well, it’s finally here!

Wedding week at the ranch. The relatives are starting to roll in, (and helping to mow the yards), the fences are painted, the decorations are in a pile somewhere waiting for their places, we’ve got the burs out of most of our horses so they’re ready for company and we are watching the ever-changing North Dakota weather forecast to be reassured that it isn’t going to rain on our big parade.

Oh, and I vacuumed and scrubbed my floors, so things are getting serious around here.

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To say it’s been a busy spring around here would be an understatement. When we’re all working together for the common goal of beautifying this old place, every minute between work and sleep has a plan in place. And while there’s plenty of work left to do out here, it has been amazing to me how a love declared and a date set can get things in motion the way that it has. Weddings, for all of the hub bub and money spent, details agonized over and tiny bows tied, really become something special in the end for the way they bring the people we love from all corners of the country to celebrate a new family being formed.

I mean, how many times in your life do you get your aunt and uncle from Omaha in the same place as your mom’s family from the east coast and your cousins from Texas?

As the first round of relatives arrive, I can’t help but think that this wedding is extra special to our family in a lot of ways. For one, the baby of our little family has found someone weird, kind and patient enough for a forever future together.

But also because that future is set to begin on the dirt that holds our family’s history, where our great grandfather homesteaded before he went off to war, where he brought his new wife home, where they raised cattle and crops and five children. Where she planted yellow roses that still bloom in the bushes below the cabin. Where he lost her when she was only thirty-six and their youngest son, our grandpa, was only eight.

And on the very dirt where my sister will stand in a white dress waiting for her groom, our grampa  grew up to be a hardworking, dedicated cowboy who didn’t ride the rodeo or buy up thousands of acres, but carried on in his father’s footsteps and kept a steady and growing business of crops and cattle through tough times while raising kids, our dad one of them, who fell in love with the landscape and the idea of taking care of it, an important outcome for a man who dreamed of the future of his ranch with his family on it.

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IMG_20150524_0012IMG_20150524_0020 Kids

And so on Saturday my little sister will stand in front of that barn as the fourth generation to chose to stick around her home. Before she walks down the isle with our dad on her arm, our ring bearer nephew and our flower girl cousin will proceed her dressed in thier best and representing another generation of kids to know and love this place.

Then my little sister will declare her love for a man who followed her west to this place and they will continue the story 100 years after our great grampa Eddie staked his claim and put up his homestead shack next to that barn.

Summer Barn

My big sister and I will stand next to her and I will hold her flowers as they kiss.

Then I’ll look over at my husband standing across the aisle and we will smile at the thought of the baby in my belly, due to come into this world at the end of November, at the beginning of a long winter and of a new and long-awaited chapter in the story of lives lived, families grown and dreams fought for out here on the Veeder Ranch.

And so it goes with love and land and family…it holds the past, the present and the ever evolving and unpredictable future…

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Under Pots and Pans

We have a hill that overlooks our house. It’s sort of a landmark on the Veeder Ranch. I’ve written about it before. Pots and Pans. IMG_2008 Every cousin, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or friend of a friend connected to this place has likely taken the hike to the top of this hill to check out the view and see what sorts of treasures are at the top. IMG_2012 See, it’s called Pots and Pans because at some point, somewhere in the 100 year history of this place, someone decided to drag old pots and pans, sifters, ladles, bowls and plates up to the top to sit on the rocks and wait for the occasional adventurous kid to take a hike and play house up there. IMG_2006 My memories of Pots and Pans growing up are a big plan on a hot summer afternoon to take a hike with the cousins. The plan included fanny packs, juice boxes, fruit snacks, scratchy legs, and the inevitable run in with a cactus or a potty break in the grass before maybe, eventually, making it to the top. IMG_2018 Because it was actually a long ways when I look at it now. From the farmhouse by the barn to the top of the hill there is at least almost a mile of treacherous terrain. And when you have short legs it’s quite the feat. IMG_2000 But it was also quite the memory that we all share now. Who would have thought at the time when I was picking cactus from my cousin’s legs that I would have built a house right under that place? Who would have thought that I would get to watch the sun come up in the morning and the moon come up at night every day over Pots and Pans. IMG_2038 At least once a week on my walks I take a trip up there to exercise my legs and see how things are blooming at the Veeder Ranch. IMG_2024 IMG_2022 IMG_2020 IMG_2001 There’s still a pot or two up there and every time I make it to the top I think of my cousins and orange Hi-C juice boxes and what an adventure this place was to us. Unexplored and wild. IMG_2014 I still think that way sometimes when I find myself on an old trail or discover a deer horn dropped in the trees or an elk standing on the top of a hill somewhere. IMG_2034 IMG_2002 IMG_1998 And I think, when my kids are born I’ll have to trek up there with some old pans of my own to continue the tradition and the mystery so that they might take their cousins and their fanny packs up to the top someday to acquire a cactus and a memory or two… I mean, I’ve set it up perfectly for them…the walk is much shorter from here🙂 IMG_2013

My new album, “Northern Lights” is now available!  Watch an interview where I talk about the process and my time in Nashville.

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