On the backs of old horses

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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 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Diary of a Christmas Blizzard: A comparison

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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.

 

 

A Letter to the Real Santa

I’m working on my book today. The baby’s in daycare and the air outside is so cold that it burns my skin the minute I step out in it. It’s a perfect day to sit behind this computer to work to gather up memories and photographs and all the important things I think I’ve said about this life we’re living out here and who it is we think we were and who we are becoming.

It’s not an easy task. I’ve written too many words. I’ve had too much to say. I don’t know if it’s good or valuable or worth it or what.

I’m sort of sick of myself at this point.

And then I found this in the archives and, well, it seemed to lift the weight of it all a bit.

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Merry Christmas Season!

See ya in between the pages.

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To my baby girl on her first birthday…

Dear Baby Girl,

Last night I rocked you to sleep in your room, the lights were low and I hummed the tune it seems I’ve been instinctively humming in your ear since you arrived a year ago.

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If you asked me to recreate the melody without you in my arms I don’t think I could, but with your cheek resting on my shoulder and my cheek resting on the soft fluff of the hair on your head, the song comes to me easily, like a breath or a blink or a sigh.

Baby, the way you’ve taken to this world has surprised and delighted me.

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Yesterday evening I fed you blueberries for the first time, and you couldn’t pick those sweet treats up fast enough, eager for the new taste, pushing all other food aside, squealing and kicking those chunky little legs until I gave you more.

I fed you so many blueberries I’m surprised you didn’t turn blue, and it’s likely your next diaper will have me paying for that choice, but man, little one, were you having fun.

And I guess, so was I.

Because your fun is my fun.

Your happy is my happy.

I get that now. And it’s beautiful and terrifying all at once, but when I close my eyes to find my own sleep at night, when the worries of mommies and daddies start creaking and pushing to fill the quiet space left for sleep, those are the kind of moments and memories I summon up to fight them.

Before you, I didn’t have that kind of weapon.

Because, baby, a year ago those legs that you were kicking so eagerly in that highchair were stretching and kicking the inside my belly.

I leaned back in chairs or in bed and watched. I grabbed your daddy’s hand so you could kick him, too, and we wondered who you might look like, when you might arrive and how our lives will change.

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What I didn’t know is that once everything changed, it would continue to change, every moment and every day.

And I wasn’t prepared for the ache that gets tucked in with the joys of the milestones. I didn’t know what a month does to a child, bringing you new teeth, new words and new hair, longer legs, bigger smiles, tighter hugs and a louder voice.

And the thread that connected us so tightly in the beginning unravels a little bit more.

Nine months felt like years when my body grew you, baby.

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Twelve months feels like a blink and you’re standing on those little legs, with one hand on the couch and the other reaching toward your daddy in the hallway. You hadn’t seen him all day, you wanted him to pick you up so you could take his cap off and try to put it on your head, so you stretched for him, his words encouraging you to let go of the couch and walk.

“You can do it, you can do it!”

And so you did.

Three little steps, just like that. He lifted you up, and we all clapped together in the kitchen.

Baby, on Thanksgiving Day, we celebrated your first birthday complete with decorations, cake and the entire family.

Last year on Thanksgiving we brought you home from the hospital, just the three of us. We were nervous and raw, uncertain and the most thankful we’ve ever been.

I didn’t think I could be more thankful than that.

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But you’ve proven me wrong.

A year later and every day it’s something new. You say “momma” and “dada”, “hi” and “bye” and “uh, oh,” your favorite of all. You wave, blow kisses and truly think you can read books by yourself and all of these are things that one-year-olds do, nothing’s so out of the ordinary for a baby your age, except every new discovery, every new challenge you master shows us how you are so uniquely, simply and innocently you in this world.

And as easy as a breath or a blink, a sigh or that song I hum to you at night, we love you baby. Happy Birthday.

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Passing the Halloween torch

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It’s Halloween. And true to my nature I stayed up late last night gluing Edie’s gumball  machine costume together and cursing myself for waiting until the last minute, because, EEEK! I ran out of little pom-poms and I live a good hour and a half from the nearest 24 hour Walmart.

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Why couldn’t I just order her a costume from Amazon.com for crying out loud?

Why? Because it looked like an adorable and easy idea a month ago when I found it.

And I think I like to make stuff. Even if I procrastinate the shit out of the process.

Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays because of those two things, because I rarely make plan until the last minute and apparently I like the thrill of creativity under pressure.

Some of my best work has come a good hour or two before our last minute plan to attend a Halloween party.

White Trash.

Bacon and Eggs/Before and After

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But it’s been a few years since we’ve hit up a bender of a Halloween party. Last year I could have gone as a blimp and I wouldn’t have needed a costume.

This year I spent the weekend obsessing over staining the house. And in case you’re wondering, it didn’t go well. I mean, #1:  Who in their right minds designs a house that needs to be re-stained every few years? And #2: Who makes that house so tall even their tallest ladder can’t reach the top?

It’s a Halloween worthy nightmare that will last our entire lives. (Or at least until we make enough money to buy ourselves out of DIYing…)

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This is the short side of the house, so who needs a ladder?  I call it Redneck Renovation (Innovation?)

Anyway, I’ve never spent a Halloween with our baby, so I’m planning on doing what we can do for the holiday with an almost-one-year-old. I’ll find mom’s witch hat and we’ll head to town this afternoon to hang in her store and hand out candy. Then I’ll make the rounds, say hi to some neighbors, show her off and likely, spend most of my time putting the bubble gum hat back on her head.

Don’t worry, they’ll be pictures tomorrow, you know you can count on it:)

Oh, and if you don’t yet, follow me on Instagram for photos on life out here.

And because this baby and my Halloween crafting project makes me nostalgic, here’s this week’s column on the memories I have of trick-or-treating along the country roads.

Coming Home: Princess of the frozen tundra passes the Halloween torch
by Jessie Veeder
10-30-16
Forum Communications

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I was a princess once.

It was a long time ago in a faraway, mysterious frozen tundra called North Dakota. I was beautiful. My crown was made of glittery pipe cleaner, my dress a hand-me-down from my fair mother, shoulder pads for dramatic effect, taken in at the waist with 37 safety pins, and it swept (drug) on the ground ever-so elegantly, collecting fallen leaves, dirty snow and candy wrappers the way every magnificent princess ballgown should.

I addressed my kingdom in a short, 1990s camcorder clip featuring a stunning and dramatic speech littered with impediments because I was a princess who couldn’t quite say my “R’s” correctly. And before I headed out the door to survey my territory, I pulled on my baby blue, puffy winter coat and well-worn snow boots, even though I fully intended on a mink shawl and glass slippers, because it was Halloween in North Dakota, and when it comes to parents, there are some arguments even a princess can’t win.

Yes, I was a princess once.

And then I was a clown in a hand-me-down, red and white, homemade zip-up suit and hat, complete with rosy cheeks.

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And once I was Pippi Longstocking, and I made my braids stick straight out and wore my dad’s lace-up work boots. And long ago, I was a ghost with spiders in my hair, then an old woman in a lace dress taken from my great-grandmother,

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and an alien with neon-green hair and a tinsel dress that my mom wore in a 1970s production of “The Wizard of Oz” in which she played the Tin Man.

Yes, ’tis the season for goblins and mermaids and 7,000 Ninja Turtles and “Frozen” characters to start gearing up for an evening of a make-believe parade down city sidewalks and doing the things that children do on a holiday that was invented to keep us young and full of imagination.

But my Halloween memories don’t include those sidewalks, because we didn’t have many on the miles of gravel roads connecting us to our “next-door neighbors.” Our trick-or-treating rituals looked more like dressing up in homemade costumes my best friend and I had been planning and perfecting for weeks, standing in front of dad’s deer horns hanging on the wall to pose for a photo next to my little sister who was dressed as a pumpkin and then piling into the minivan with the neighbor girls while our dads drove us through the 10-mile loop so we could unload and load up again at all seven houses.

One year my best friend went as a picnic table, to-scale and complete with at least two table settings, so you can about imagine how that car ride went.

But we didn’t care; you could have piled six more kids in that minivan, and we would have never wished for a sidewalk or streetlights. We were convinced us country kids had the best Halloweens. Because at that time, we were some of the few, we were special, and our neighbors were expecting us. So at each of those seven or so houses, we loaded up on handfuls of candy, treat bags complete with pencils or pinwheels, full-sized candy bars, bags of popcorn and a chance to take our time, show off some tricks and model our costumes, strutting and showing off what we worked so hard to put together.

And at the end of it all, we all we unloaded at the final house, dragging pieces of our costumes behind us, disheveled and tired and ready to dump our pillowcases full of treats on the carpet to sort through while our parents visited in the kitchen.

Today, in my kitchen, the supplies for Edie’s Halloween costume sit in a box on my countertop, and I just realized the torch has been officially passed as I turn from back-seat princess to minivan driver. But my friend up the road has four kids, so if we want to ride together like we did in the old days, we might need to see where we can get a small bus … especially if anyone plans on going as a picnic table this year.

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Making Memories. Making Pies.

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It’s a beautiful morning at the ranch, the wind is calm and the golden trees are sparkling in the sun, the baby is napping, the windows are open and I’m so happy to be home after six days on the music road.

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I’ve designated this day to unpacking and putting away all that was drug out in the name of traveling across the state with a ten-month old and my mother…which means we most definitely brought home way more than we left home with…

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Like maybe a few more outfits. And at least one new pair of shoes for each of us.

And maybe a giraffe suit for Little Sister?

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We sure have a fun and exhausting time when we’re out traipsing around the countryside. But we don’t get much napping in. And we don’t stick to a bedtime. And we try to cram as much fun as we can in between the gigs.

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Mini Merch Slinger

So we’re tired.

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I predict Edie will take the rest of the week to catch up on all of the extra time she spent kicking and clapping and singing along with her eyes wide open until the bitter end of the day when we plopped down together on the hotel bed, or the bed in my grandparent’s house, or the bed of our gracious hosts, and finally gave into the night.

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Sound check…

I’m contemplating crawling into her crib with her right now and the two of us could stay there all day. If only we both fit.

But not until I share this week’s column with you, a little story about the best part of this season change, which is most certainly more time in the kitchen with family reminiscing and making new, sweet flavored memories.

And I may be no Martha Stewart, as you all know, but this was my biggest attempt yet, getting as close as this non-pastry-making-family can get to pie perfection, thanks to the notes left behind from our grandma Edie…and maybe a little encouraging from above.

Happy season change. May the cooler weather inspire you to cuddle up and settle down a bit. I know that’s my goal this upcoming October anyway.

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Coming Home: Connecting with gramma’s memory over a slice of apple pie
by Jessie Veeder
9-25-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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My mom keeps a small wooden box in her kitchen, tucked up in the cupboard next to her collection of cookbooks. On the front it reads “RECIPES” in the shaky, wood-burning technique of a young boy trying his hand at carpentry.

And the from-scratch buns she served with supper.

And the familiar casseroles that you could smell cooking as you walked up toward the tiny brown house from the barnyard after a ride on a cool fall evening.

Every once in awhile my mom will open that box on a search for a memory tied to our taste buds. She’ll sort through the small file of faded handwriting and index cards until she finds it, setting it on the counter while she gathers ingredients, measures stirs and puts the dish together the best way she remembers.

I’m thinking about it now because it’s sitting on my kitchen table, the one that used to sit in my grandmother’s kitchen all those years ago acting as a surface to roll out dough and pie crusts or a place to serve countless birthday cakes or her famous April Fool’s day coffee filter pancakes.

And so they’ve met again, that table and that box, which is currently sitting next to a pie pan covered in tinfoil.

Because last week we pulled the box out on a mission for guidance on what to do with the 50,000 pounds of apples my little sister inherited from the tree in the backyard of the house she bought a few years back.

“Maybe we should make applesauce or apple crisp,” we said as Little Sister plopped the fourth bag full of fruit on my kitchen counter, my mom sipping coffee and my big sister entertaining my nephew beside her.

I reached up in the cupboards to dust off a couple recipe books because we all agreed then that apples this nice deserve to be in a pie, and Googling “pie making” seemed too impersonal for such an heirloom-type task.

Then Mom remembered the recipe box.

And that Gramma Edie used to make the best apple pies.

It was a memory that was intimately hers and vaguely her daughters’. We were too young to remember the cinnamon spice or the sweetness of the apples or the way she would make extra crust to bake into pieces and sprinkle with sugar when the pies were done, but our mother did.

And most certainly so did our dad.

So we dove into the recipe with the unreasonable confidence of amateurs and spent the afternoon in my kitchen, peeling apples, bouncing the baby and rolling and re-rolling out gramma’s paradoxically named “No Fail Pie Crust,” laughing and cheering a victory cheer as we finally successfully transferred it to the top of the pie using four hands and three spatulas, certain this wasn’t our grandmother’s technique.

Wondering how she might have done it.

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Little Sister carved a heart in the top to make it look more presentable. We put the pie in the oven, set the timer and hoped for the best.

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We fed the baby and gave her a bath. We watched my nephew demonstrate his ninja moves. We talked and poured a drink. We cleared the counter for supper. We put the baby to bed.

And then we pulled the pie from the oven. We marveled at our work. We decided it looked beautiful, that we might declare it a huge success, but first we should see what Dad thinks.

So we dished him up a piece. It crumbled into a pile on his plate, not pie shaped at all. But he closed his eyes and took a bite and declared it just the right amount of cinnamon, the apples not too hard, the crust like he remembered, not pretty but good.

We served ourselves and ate up around that old table. We thought of our grandma, wondered if she might have given us a little help and put the recipe back in the box right next to her memory and the new one we made.

And we closed the lid.

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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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