The myth of “back to normal?”

Was there ever such a thing as normal?
 The more I think about wanting to return to “normal,” the more absurd I find the whole concept.

The new year is upon us. Finally.

I sit in front of this computer screen compelled to work out something profound as we bid adieu to a year that has brought us together and torn us apart, made us lose and find hope, scared us, confused us, angered us and often found us wishing time away and saying things like, “I can’t wait to get back to normal.”

I’ve said it myself plenty of times, yet only recently have I really sunk my teeth into what this “normal” actually looks like. And the more I reach to know it, the more absurd I find it.

Because we seem to be holding this “normal” to standards with which we’re sure we recall living at ease, comfortable and certain of what our tomorrow was going to look like, as if that’s a gift we once possessed together. Normal. Is there such a thing really?

The beauty and tragedy of time ticking away the seconds, minutes and hours that make up a life, is that any of those seconds, minutes or hours have the ability to change our course, and change us, profoundly. In 2020, we got to experience that as a nation, as a world, in a sense, collectively.

But collectively, we did not all have the same experience, the same struggles, the same outcomes, the same attitude or willfulness or support or despair. And saying that we’re all in this together, in this “new normal,” felt like a bitter and hard pill to swallow when the numbers didn’t add up and your business had to close. Or your father died. Or you haven’t seen your grandmother in person for months and your children are home from school, but you still need to report to work and there is no one knocking on your door to help you fill in the gaps that these unprecedented times have handed you.

With the exception of some small tasks and ways of living, there has not ever been a universal normal, let alone a universal new normal. But I think we can all agree that what we have endured these past nine months as a country and as global citizens is unnerving, upsetting, heartbreaking, eye-opening and, hopefully, humbling.

And so I’ve taken to reading. Novels and memoirs printed on dog-eared pages with the bed lamp on when the house is quiet like I used to do before our normal was parenthood and overwhelming plans in the works and handheld screens that dictated our schedule and mood and how we tick away the time.

Last night, I turned the last page on a memoir written by a woman raised by a Norwegian immigrant mother in the early 1900s. There were pages about what it took to feed her family, the 200 chickens and trading eggs each week, 20 miles away in Williston, N.D.

Nothing to do but Stay

There were pages on a father spending the winter clearing a path to and from the one-room schoolhouse where his teenage daughter taught and his younger children learned, and then, when it got too impossible, leaving them there to spend the week, because they didn’t want to risk students arriving alone to an empty schoolhouse.

And then there were pages about the flu pandemic of 1918 and how one woman’s chicken noodle soup delivered by horse and wagon one cold winter evening may have saved a life, and on and on I found new perspective and new gratitude for those who have endured the “normal” that came before us.

So now here’s the best I can do. In this new year, my hope is that we can all come to accept that we are humans who live on constant shifting sand. And once we accept it, perhaps we can find some time to be grateful for it, with the understanding that even though we do not all live in the same state of normal, we have within us the power to be there for one another.

And if we have nothing else in common, that’s one gift we do, indeed, possess together.

This New Year, let a toddler inspire you…

This new year, let a toddler inspire you
Forum Communications


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.


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.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

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:


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


  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.


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


  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.
  9. When you do something good, make sure you know where they keep the treats.
  10. Dance like you were made for it.

Happy New Year!

My holiday wish for you


A sight we didn’t know if we’d ever see coming into 2018. 

Happy New Year to you all my friends. I hope you found some peace this holiday season. I’m trying to recover it in day three of my attempt at taking down the Christmas decorations and day eleventy-billion of the flu and pink eye and runny noses and coughs

As we face down the new year, I am thankful for a 2018 that challenged our hearts and our relationships, but brought us here, together and laughing in the best possible outcome.

And if you’re carrying with you a heavy heart, this is my wish for you.

The Day After Christmas, and my wish for you

Forum Communications


It’s the day after Christmas. I can’t see my floor. Every dish in this place is either dirty or awaiting its fate in the sink or dishwasher.

Toys are making noises that I can’t figure out how to stop, and I’ve eaten nothing but sugar cookies in the last 12 hours. And it’s snowing. A little late for a white Christmas, but I’m fine with that.

What lies ahead of us is a few more long months of winter, saved by those noisy new toys and the sweet memories we made the past few days with family. And I am grateful for so many things this year, but on the top of that list is our health. We have it today.

And as I sat in the emergency room with my husband and 1-year-old when we were supposed to be eating prime rib dinner with his family last weekend, I couldn’t help think of all the holiday suppers spent in hospital rooms around the world. Oh, our daughter is fine. A dose of Motrin and a flu diagnosis and off we went to wipe her nose and snuggle her for the next several days.

And I left that hospital knowing full well that we have a sick baby at Christmas, and yes, that’s a bummer, but we are the lucky ones. We are the lucky ones who got to bring her home. We are the lucky ones who were granted our Christmas wishes last year to spend another holiday season with my dad, Papa Gene, and watch the kids dance as he played “Jingle Bells” on the guitar.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

At this time last year, we didn’t know if we would ever see him again as I served pancakes on Christmas Eve in an attempt to carry on the comfort of tradition as we held our breath with worry.

In my life, I haven’t been sheltered from the fact that the holidays are not magical and harmonious for everyone, regardless of the faith one might carry. In fact, in the presence of twinkling lights, Champagne toasts, carols, gifts and funny photos of children terrified of Santa, grief, loneliness, hopelessness and worry become magnified. And for some, if the suffering or the loss is fresh or in the present moments, the weight can be unbearable.

I’ve known that unbearable weight. I know the feeling of going through the motions. And now that we’re on the other side, in a place where we are opening gifts with the babies we never thought we’d have and wrapping up dad’s leftover prime rib bones for the dogs, I wanted to leave this here. I wanted to say it out loud, put it in print, to tell you if you’re living that suffering right now, I see you.

I know you’re out there staring down a new year and wondering if you’re all going to be OK, if you’re all going to get through. If you’ll survive it.

And while each circumstance, each ache and emotion radiates through every heart in a different way, as the winter settles in now, my wish for you is that you can let go of that breath, hold tight to the memories and reach out for the people that love you.


Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at Readers can reach her at

Partying like a parent


Happy Monday to you. I hope you’re somewhere warm, successfully avoiding the plague that has swept through our house this past week. I mean, there’s better ways to ring in the New Year than pink eye and double ear infection, but we chose to spend Friday making a trip to the doctor to make sure that we didn’t give our little niece the RSV diagnosis she had or vice versa. Oh, and while you’re at it, can you take a look at my husband’s eyes?

And so we laid low this weekend, negotiating antibiotic administration with the toddler, washing every surface and pillowcase, and visiting the baby I tried my best to keep in quarantine. Guess that’s all it took to be on the mend and here we are staring down Monday and the Christmas decorations I have to put away, wondering if the scratch in my throat and the crust in my eye puts me next on the list for a doctor visit.

Ah, parenthood. When you’re not bending over to pick up the tiny, plastic cow you just stepped on you’re Googling potential illnesses.

This is our life now. And so we celebrate accordingly.

Coming Home: Ringing in the New Year like the real adults we are
Forum Communications

Happy New Year from the ranch where it’s freezing cold, nobody is sleeping and everyone is having a hard time finding pants that fit.

If I were a resolution-making woman I’d be working on the one thing on that list I can control, but my current motto seems to be “the faster I eat these cookies the sooner I can get on my diet plan.” And I’ve had three already and it’s only 10 a.m., so I’m well on my way to getting started.

We welcomed 2018 just up the hill with friends we’ve known nearly all our lives. Twelve years ago, our midnight toast would’ve just been the peak of our evening instead of something we moved up to 10 p.m. to ensure we all got in on it.

If The Ghost of New Year’s Future would’ve visited us at 22 to show us that scene there would have been some explaining to do.

Yes, now we call our kids down to the basement to show us how to use the new hoverboard thing they got for Christmas and marvel at the speed and agility of the 11-year-old as she spins and swoops on an invention that got its name from an ’80s movie we were alive to see in theaters.

And then, just to make sure everyone remembered that we’re in our mid-30s, I watched my husband get ready to take his turn, but not before I grabbed his hands, looked him straight in the eyes and in front of his high school buddies, his small children and Jesus, reminded him in my best, seriously-I’m-not-even-joking voice that He. Can. Not. Get. Hurt.

If I would’ve pulled that overprotective crap in our other lives I would have subjected my young husband to some serious ridicule by those same high school buddies.

But we’re living a different life now, so instead I watched two of those friends take him by each elbow in order to give him a chance to get his legs without breaking his back.

Because they understand the havoc spending a month in traction would create. They also have cows to feed, hockey to coach, butts to wipe, bills to pay and sidewalks to shovel, so they didn’t bat an eye at my stern suggestion.

Instead they nodded their heads and then relayed a few stories about buddies of theirs who tried this very thing last Christmas and broke an elbow/hip/ankle/brain…

“It’s best to not be overconfident and try this before the second beer,”  they suggested. Which comforted me enough to leave them and go back upstairs to feed the infant and set the toddler on the potty, which is likely how I would have celebrated the countdown if we didn’t make some minor adjustments to the midnight-striking schedule.

Adulting can be flexible like that.

And if I were a resolution-making woman, I might resolve we all be more adventurous, but I think it’d suit us all better to resolve to spend more time with the people who know and love us enough to hold us up and cheer us on.

Seems we need it more as the years tick by, in life as well as in new-age gadgets…


Happy New Year Life is Beautiful

Happy 2014 everyone. Looks like we made it another year, despite my overconsumption of champagne and cream based party dips over the past several weeks.

We rang in the New Year with style and class as always here at our humble abode under homemade party hats constructed out of Red Solo cups, because these are the things we resort to when there’s not a New Years headband to be found for miles.


And we’re crafty, you know.

That’s my cousin on the left. And now he’s gonna kill me.

Or something like that…

Anyway, yesterday when the smoke had cleared from the unsuccessful egg bake I attempted to make for my guests, Husband and I shuffled around the house, ate leftover dip and pasta and reminisced a bit about the year we left behind us.

We both came to the conclusion that it went too fast. So fast, that most of our memories are a blur.

But there are some favorites we could agree on, fun little tidbits of 2013 that will hang on with us forever.

Like making a bon fire and attempting to curl on the stock dam and sled down the big hill outside our house with all the friends we could convince to come and visit us,

the long trip to Montana to sing under the mountains,

my cousin’s wedding that brought all the relatives together,

the arrival of the cabin on the spot the old house used to sit,

the construction of the deck and celebrating turning 30 under the stars.

It was the year of the wild berries and impossible hornets,

Pops’ Trail 90, a Disney Extravaganza, the slow destruction of my windshield and the pug’s motivation

and what feels like a million words written and a thousand songs sung.

It was the year of Juno,

a big March snow storm,

so much rain we never got out of the mud,

the coldest December of my life, a master bathroom project that threatened to end me and some of the best horses we’ve ever had on this place.

It was the year we didn’t quite get what we wanted but tried our damnedest anyway.

It was a good year, one, as always, spent behind the camera.

Because life is beautiful.













Thanks for all the love friends. Here’s to good friends, good wine, good tunes and good times in 2014!

Next Year.

It’s been a hell of a year at the Veeder Ranch and it looks like it’s going to go out with quite the chill in the air. I’ll tell you in advance, if you can’t find me after midnight tonight it’s because I’ll be laying face down in a carpeted corner somewhere, exhausted and finally giving in after a wonderful week spent wrapping and unwrapping, decorating and celebrating, laughing and baking and eating everything, driving and visiting friends, singing for my supper and trying every holiday cocktail concoction possible.

Staring down a new year has always been bittersweet for me. I get a little panicky feeling in the pit of my stomach that’s directly correlated to the tasks I thought I might get done and the potential of a brand new chance to get things right.

See I try to be a person who looks back only occasionally to catch a good memory, remember a lesson learned or laugh at something that was damn hilarious.

I’ve been known to leave the awkward, tough and uncomfortable situations that occurred throughout my life in the dust where I think they belong, but the anticipation of January 1st always has me looking back on the little things that I could have done better; like taking deep breaths whenever I found my husband on a tall ladder,

the pug packing his nap-sack for another runaway attempt,

or the cat dangling painfully from the tips of my fingers. 

Deep breaths.

It works on the little things and it worked as we could do nothing but watch the volunteer firefighters try to save the little farmhouse we called home this summer.

Breathing, sometimes in this life that’s all we can do.

Sometimes that’s all I want to do as I sit on the hilltops on the back of my horse and watch as the wind bends the grasses, rustles the trees and tangles my hair, but in all of the moments I’ve set up for myself throughout the year sometimes breathing is the hardest.

And the most important thing.

This year I wrote it all down.

This year I sang it out loud and sent it out into the world.

This year I cried a little and sucked it up.

This year I was scared. Really nervous. This year I did it anyway.

This year I made dessert for breakfast, mistakes that looked like reasons and music that sounded a little more like me.

This year I rode a little harder I think. I drank too much coffee and too much tequila, ate too much pasta and maybe didn’t make as much time for that breathing thing as I should have.

Or sit-ups.

But I laughed. A lot. I got my oxygen that way I think. I laughed hard as I rode off into the sunset on a horse working his hardest to get rid of me.

I laughed as we stuck it out. I laughed as I forgot to put it in drive while pushing the gas pedal and wondering why the hell I wasn’t moving.

I laughed as our whole life was strung out on the lawn outside of my parents house. I laughed at the idea that we had all of this stuff, all of this space and no place to put it.

I laughed at the annoying things–the twisted ankles, the slippery roads, the runaway dogs and messes I never get around to cleaning up–I laughed because we were all still alive and loving each other, knowing that those things are a long way from our hearts.

Because this year I helped build us a house,  jumped out of a damn plane, landed safely on the ground and ate the best fish taco I’ve ever had in my life next to the best friends they make.

This year the ranch, my home got, clean, fresh, bought and paid for water, I got a newspaper column, finished that album,
kept some promises and saw my world from the clouds.

This year I loved as much as I possibly could.

And next year I intend on opening that heart up even more.

I do.

Next year I will learn all of the words to Rocky Top. I’ll get practicing tomorrow.

Next year I will master meal planning, organization and the mandolin.

Next year I will play the harmonica on my new deck next to my garden busy growing tomatoes and basil and pumpkins I think.

Next year I will be 30.


Next year I’ll be ok with that.

Next year I’ll do sit-ups. And maybe some lunges.

Next year I’ll bake more bread, visit more friends, spend more time listening and saying the things that need to be said.

Next year I’ll walk to more hilltops just to sit for a while.

Next year I’ll drink too much coffee and red wine. Next year I’ll still love peanut butter

I’ll still love this.

And I’ll still love him.

I’ll always love him.

And at the end of any day, at the end of any year, that’s the most important thing anyway, no matter who’s climbing ladders, what catches fire or how many wild dreams (or wild dogs) we are chasing.

Thanks for hanging in there with us. Cheers to an adventure filled 2013.

And cheers to more laughter.

Oh January

Oh, January you’ve changed haven’t you?
Casting long shadows
against gold, green and blue

tempting us with light jackets
and unlined walking shoes

Oh, January…what did you do?

To your silky white snow drifts
your wind frozen and wild?
You used to be reckless,
now what are you? Mild?

You’re a hot, sultry vixen
and you’re throwing us off
with your new sexy t-shirt
and your jeans? Are they cropped?

Yes, your new look it is stunning,
your kisses so warm
still I find myself watching
for the inevitable storm…

For the snowflakes to drop
and my fingers to freeze
as I lay in the gold grass
humming with the soft breeze.

Oh, I wait to despise you
like I usually do
No, I’m not sure about this
but I like it, it’s new.

But your hair does looks different
your cheeks a bit flushed
and you greet me with sunshine!
January I’m touched!

So though the I hate to admit it
or make a big fuss
January, I tell you…

I’ve never liked you this much.

This year’s story…

The year is winding down here and it is doing so quite nicely. This morning there is a little fog that has settled in over the barnyard, coating the grass and trees with a thin layer of frost. I am waiting for the sky to lighten a bit before taking a trip into town, just as all of us up here this December are waiting, holding our breath for the snow to fall as it inevitably will. And in the hustle and bustle of our lives, the taking down of Christmas decorations, the New Year’s plans, the gift returns and holiday cleanup, my hope for you is that you are giving yourself a  moment to close your eyes and reflect on a year that was no doubt filled with achievements, heartbreak, love found or lost, adventure…all the experiences that got us safely to the cusp of a new year, a little older, a little wiser, and hopefully, a little better in spite of all of those lessons.

Lessons like when delving into a full-blown, first time in the kitchen salsa caning project at 8 pm, make sure you have the proper ingredients (like jars) and the willpower and drive to follow through into the early morning hours. Or the other lesson learned early on in the year about how to ensure you don’t ever get a visit from the Schwan’s man again in your life followed by the an over the phone tutorial on how to pull the FedEx man in a FedEx van out of your snowed in driveway in the middle of winter, in the middle of nowhere. Both lessons resulting in getting our ice-cream and our packages in town.

Yes, there was the lesson learned about what happens when 150 cows throw a party on your lawn after a big summer rain storm, the one about how to sprain your ankle jumping off a horse, the realization that I just might be too soft to be an effective 4-H judge followed by the other realization that apparently husband collects coolers, microwaves, bed frames, dressers, ice skates, thousands of unidentifiable tractor and truck parts, old lunch boxes, swallow nests, spiders, deer antlers, gears, wire, Christmas wreaths, scrap wood, a jeep and a partridge in a pear tree and keeps them piled up in our garage….and that isn’t likely to change.


And yes, I will always blame this on him. 

And then there was the blinding lesson the pug learned about messing with porcupines when you only weigh thirty-five pounds and a good portion of your smooshy face is actually covered in two buggy eyeballs, which resulted in the following lesson on how to get by with only one buggy eyeball. And after the three trips to the vet, the giant cone he was forced to wear and a few run-ins with the wall as he turned his head to look over his shoulder, the pug has pretty much been transformed this year into something that could be referred to now as “Bad Ass.”

Bad ass like husband running out the door in the middle of the night to save us all from the raccoon dangling off of the side of the deck with, umm, nothing but a gun in his hand and a mission in his groggy head. Turns out he got to learn the lesson about wearing clothes to bed in case of midnight varmint emergencies, well, twice.

Yes, some lessons catch us off guard and find us standing butt naked on the rail of the deck in the middle of the night with a shotgun in your hands and two full moons shining in the darkness…and then others roll into your lives quietly, like the herd of elk Pops and I snuck up on this spring, reminding us that life is magical and fragile and quite frankly a masterpiece.

A masterpiece that grows the raspberries in the east pasture and finds us riding our horses in the summer sun at just the right time to stumble upon them and indulge. It’s the kind of life that gives us voices and ambition to sing out loud next to people you respect and admire  and the ability to understand that it doesn’t matter where you are, in a barnyard, around a campfire, in a smoky bar somewhere, it’s the chance to blend voices, it’s the music in you that, when it finds its moment to be heard, is the true gift.

Like the gift I was given as I watched my husband walk across the pasture in the crisp spring evening at the end of the first pleasant day of one of the harshest winters of our lives. And as I watched him scratch the ears of his favorite horse from my perch in the passenger seat of the pickup I caught my breath in the realization that this is the life we were supposed to be living and that in this world full of snow storms and breakdowns and things that might never be fixed, I married the right man. And we are in the right place. 

And so here I sit in my husband’s favorite chair in my grandmother’s house on my family’s land on the edge of the badlands in North Dakota as the wind blows through the icy trees under an overcast sky. Here I sit with my coffee cup, taking a moment to reflect on a year that was observed just as much as it was lived. And if the words I scrounged up to describe the sound of a coyote howling across the landscape haven’t moved a soul, if the photos I snapped of the breathtaking sunsets were only seen with my eyes and the music I wrote of my home in the hills was only heard in my heart, today I can say with confidence something that may not have rung true a few years ago…it would be enough for me.

See, it hasn’t come easily, but as I walked out in the summer rain and bent down to snap a photo of a wildflower drenched in the season, as I laughed out loud at the antics of my pets, helped my husband in the kitchen, strummed my guitar, playing along with a song my father was singing or climbed on the back of a horse to show my friend around the ranch, I found myself becoming an a spectator, a witness to the life I was living. With my camera to my eye I noticed how the sky formed gorgeous silhouettes, how my father’s hands folded on the saddle horn while he counted the cattle, how my sister rides horse like she lives life…on a mission.

With the idea of passing on the story, I listened a little closer at how words rolled of tongues, paid attention to the heat of the sun, the bite of the wind, the way the snow crunched under our feet…

Yesterday a new friend exclaimed that one of the three things we have control of in our lives is our time. And I know sometimes it doesn’t feel this way, sometimes it feels time has a grip on us, it passes us by, it moves too quickly when we want it to stay and drags on the minutes while we wait to move on. But if we could give ourselves one gift this new year I think it would be this: to exist and move through our lives conscious of how we are spending our minutes, aware that they are with or without purpose. And then we should give ourselves a little bit more of it so that we might observe the moon as it rises big and bright over the horizon, kiss our husbands a little longer, let ourselves lie down in the spring grass, feel the warm sun and watch the clouds move with the wind, hold our children a little tighter and linger there to smell their clean hair, to feel their soft skin under our fingers so we can remember it well, that we can get to know it all… so that we might have it in us when we need it most.

So of all of the lessons learned this year, all of the things I’ve come to know and appreciate, one of my greatest gifts has been having your ear to listen, your eyes to see what I see, your words that relate to the chaos of life here in this space we share, to tell you these things and know that someone cares. Because the stories are there, boring or humorous, observational, poetic…everyone has them. But without you I may have never  told them…

And because of you I now know they are enough.

Happy New Year to you and all of those in your story!

A piece of my peace…

We’ll, it’s officially 2011. Like three days in. And while people all over the country were ringing in the new year in fancy outfits, clinking classes filled with bubbly together, wearing cardboard hats while kissing lovers or strangers and then screaming “Happy New Year,” with flushed cheeks as the band or jukebox or the random guy on the saxophone played the appropriate song, I had been sleeping a good 12 to 16 minutes already.

Because apparently that’s what happens when you have enjoyed one or two glasses of wine with the in-laws and then sit down in the living room on the big, fluffy couch with three snuggly, blonde, pink fleece PJ wearing nieces who are undoubtedly on the edge of sleep (I mean really, look at their little faces) and pop on the DVD player to enjoy the gripping, thrilling tale of Tinkerbell and her friends.

And then shut the lights off.

Yup. In about 4.5 seconds father-in-law was snoring so loud I missed the explanation of how Tinkerbell actually wound up trapped in the doll house, so I turned to husband, who surely was following along, and found him in a full on, head tilted back, mouth wide open, fly catching slumber. I looked around the room for any kind of explanation and it soon became clear that all adult bodies had given in. And poking out from under the blankets were three sets of big, blue eyes that appeared to be glued open, careful not to blink because blinking could result in snoozing and they would stand for none of it.

None of it I tell ya. Because Tinkerbell was about to make friends with a real live human girl and they were taking notes, you know, in case they should happen upon a similar situation where they were greeted by a fairy of their own.

Yes, I bought them tutus and ballerina shirts for Christmas...I'm weak, I'm weak...

Yeah, they were so focused on the staying awake thing I guess they couldn’t hear me when I said “Psst..psst…how did Tinkerbell get stuck in there? Where is she taking her? Can she talk? Why can’t the girl hear her? Oh my gosh! I can’t take the suspense….”

And since no one was talking to me in fear of missing a thing and all hope of following a storyline this complicated was lost, I gave into the sleep thing too, drooling a bit on husband’s shoulder and as niece number two laid her head on my lap we became a regular, cuddly pile of love and pink and sweatpants and pajamas.

Best New Year’s I’ve ever had.

Which got me thinking about moments like these, you know the quiet, simple, wonderful, uneventful events in which we exist. See I have had a great year. A full year of hammering and climbing and packing and unpacking and chasing cats and cooking…uh, I mean eating and welcoming babies and making cheese balls and not doing laundry…you know, we’ve been over this. I’ve told you all about those adventures. But as I am thinking back and looking through the three thousand and some photos I have taken over the course of seven months, it occurred to me that I have failed to share with you a few things–a few good stories, a few simple moments, a few of my favorites. Neglected because of their lack of climactic adventure, gripping saga or sentimental story attachment, these snapshots, these breaths of life, these characters surrounding me got filed away under the “August 2010” or “Family” or “Music” folders to be saved for later, saved for another time when they become important to me again.

Well, today’s the day people. Today I present to you my top five favorite moments of 2010:



Pug, not so happy about swimming



Pug on a summer ride


There, now I’ve told you everything….good day to ya.


I kid, I kid.


But really, there are some things I failed to share, (that surprisingly didn’t involve that damn pug) even in the middle of every intention to tell you the story…

…of the turkeys I attempted to sneak up on this fall while the boys held my horse and watched, and probably laughed,un-beknownst to me, as I crouched and stepped lightly, moving toward the flock, sure to go unnoticed by the feather brained poultry if only I just stayed low and kept quiet…

…thinking to myself that I gotta get more life in my photography, more game, more feathers, more adventure and less dog…more wild and less flower…more movement and less tree branch…more…more…wow, my legs are burning…I’ve been walking a long time and I’m not getting any closer…

“Hey Jess! Jess!”

A faint voice called my name from the furthest butte…


Sounded like pops…

“What, shhh, dad, shhh….”

“Yeah, how far ya gonna go?”

“Shhh…I don’t know gosh…”

I turned around.

I was all alone

Except for the turkeys, who are apparently deceivingly fast, having already taken flight…

…and that voice calling from somewhere…saying something about a horse…

Anyway, so there are the turkeys, in case you were wondering why the only wildlife you get from me wore collars and bridals and had weird names.

Which reminded me of the elk.

The elk that you can’t see here, but is here…

…yeah,way out there in the middle of the shot, a little brown dot in the clearing between the two coulees of bare trees.

Turns out these boys, the ones I rode behind faithfully all the non-snowy season, have eyes, good eyes…

…and I need a longer lens…

…because there were elk all around us that fall evening. We rode a good portion of our land and were kicking them up left and right like cumbersome giants dwarfing the buttes that look so majestic under the hooves of the measly deer.

And I decided I hadn’t really lived until that moment I heard them crashing and clambering through the trees like dinosaurs tearing up my favorite coulee and coming to pose on the skyline on the other side.

Nope, I’d never seen life that grand spring across our humble piece of the prairie…

…a piece of prairie that rang with laughter and memories and children’s footprints this summer as the Veeder family gathered to share the stories these hills could tell, to pick her wildflowers, to roll in her grasses, to feel her heat and let the wind whip through their hair…

…and that ground had never been more alive, the leaves more boastful, rocks so proud.  Our little world never felt more love.

So as we reminisced in the summer sun, thinking of our grandparents and aunts and uncles who spent their childhood here, who worked the land and called this home, we felt sure we could feel them there with us as we grabbed at the same earth, smelled the yellow roses she planted and visited the homestead shack where they first settled this place…

So I coaxed Pops to stand in the very same spot, the very same way his father had stood next to the homestead shack in a photo I recall tucked away in an album somewhere.

And here I touched the handles and levers of the old stove and imagined cooking supper between these walls, under this sky…

…and so it was a summer of reminiscing and moving on as I stood under the same sky to say goodbye to a piece of our world, a piece of history that holds the story of this small farming and ranching community who found faith and fellowship  under this humble roof in what was sometimes an otherwise lonely existence.

Yes, the summer of 2010 held the last service for our little church along the gravel road, in the middle of the wind swept prairie. And with no hurrah, no confetti or drawn out hymns, the neighborhood gathered in jeans and boots and their Sunday best to say goodbye, have some coffee together and take some of the dishes for crying out loud…

…so I took a chicken shaped sugar dish and wiped my eyes, cause I think I got some dust in them.

Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t tell you about it, but I think it was because there wasn’t much to say except sometimes it seems this world has grown a bit too big for the small things–the things that are too good and pure to make a fuss about the situation…

…like the mist that fell on a summer morning bike ride, clouding my vision enough to convince me that I may have found myself lost…

…lost somewhere a little more magical…

…a little more mysterious…

…a bit more innocent.

No, I didn’t tell you about that either. I didn’t show you what it looks like here when the clouds drop down. I kept it for myself.

Like this wreath I made on my birthday out in the heat of the summer sun using an old rope, fencing wire and grass….

…and these fragile spider webs that were quietly woven in the cracks and crannies of the old red barn, waiting patiently to be discovered by a crazy haired woman with a new camera…


No, I didn’t share these with you either and I don’t know why.  But I think it was because I felt like a secret, VIP guest in a microscopic world that I was welcomed into through the lens of my camera and the right kind of light shining through the cracks in the weathered barn.

And maybe I wasn’t ready to admit that I found this sort of thing, the thing we usually swat away with disgust, fascinating and breathtaking…

…and how could I convince you that this commonplace act of preparation and tradition and hard work, is comforting and hopeful to me? How could you possibly understand?

And maybe I just didn’t know how to explain that this, as much as anything else in the world, means home to me…

…or that North Dakota has mountains and they sometimes touch the clouds…

…or that when I came upon this in the pasture one afternoon all I wanted in the entire world was to be one of them…

…to know what it is to appreciate the warm sunshine touching my back and melting the snow…

…and have nothing to do but soak it up.

So there you have it. I didn’t want you to miss a thing, but I know I failed us all on that one. Because no matter how much we try, there is so much we miss.

Even when we work so hard to capture it, to see it, to remember the stories that go along, to remember what your father told you about your grandmother’s cooking, to never forget the day you saw that big buck on the skyline or the name of that wildflower or what your niece’s hair smelled like when she was still four and not quite five no matter how much she wanted to be five, we forget. We tuck those things away telling ourselves we’ll get back to it, but if the story is never told, it cannot be heard.

It can not be passed along.

And maybe that’s ok.

Because we know our stories, the ones we tell about ourselves that are funny and embarrassing and heroic and dignified and dramatic, in the end become a piece of us, a part of who we are.

But those moments when we are alone, where we hold our breath or sit down to make something with our hands, or wipe a tear that no one will ever see–the moments where we are quiet in a world that puts on a show and performs for us every day, how we applaud those small moments, how we exist when no one is looking, those moments matter more than we think. And maybe we don’t have to pass them along to everyone, but maybe we should try to keep those memories of the non-eventful events so we can go back there sometimes, when we need to…

…because maybe that’s what peace is…not the act of searching for a moment of silence or a butterfly in flight or a chance to float on a tranquil sea, but recognizing in your everyday life the small seconds and minutes when your mind is free…and then knowing where to find that memory when you need it.

And if those small seconds and minutes are buried too deep to find right now, don’t worry, I have gathered here for you some of mine…and you can use them anytime…


A year in review…with you.

Happy New Year!

Wow. It’s December 30th. I just looked down at the little calendar icon thing at the bottom of my computer screen and it screamed at me–“It’s almost the end of a whirlwind year lady! It’s almost the beginning of 365 days of new adventure ahead. You should probably reflect on this!”

I jumped right out of  my neckerchief at the thought, and  since I’m not going anywhere today because nature is ringing in the New Year with yet another blizzard and more drifts of snow blocking my driveway, I figured now is as good of time as any to let you all know something about me.

I am a grateful, frizzy haired, pug loving, frozen and slightly more squishy thanks to the holiday cookies lady.

I am thankful.

I am thrilled and hopeful and full of love and nerves and excitement and overwhelmed…not only at the thought of a year full of changes and decisions and heartbreak and joy and manual labor at my back, but for the one ahead.

The one ahead that is sure to bring all of those things and more…especially that manual labor stuff.

But before I look ahead with you all, ahead to a year where I hope I will see the dust from your car trailing behind you down our pink road and onto our doorstep, I want to look back.

Because looking back always helps remind me, especially when I am in the middle of shoveling away what the blizzard brought us, or sweating and cursing the burs of summer, or trudging through the gumbo of the buttes after a wayward cow, that I am here.

Right back where I started from.

Right where I belong.

See, I’m not sure if I made this clear in the beginning of this little project I started (which I simply refer to as “writing it all down,”) that last year at this time I was living alone. I was living alone in a big house in a town an hour and a half away from the ranch–an hour and a half away from where my husband had just moved to take a job.

And I couldn’t go with him because I too, had a job to do. And together, we had a house to finish–a house we purchased on a good five year plan to gut it all out, put it all back together nice and shiny and live there, working and saving and making our way back to the ranch in good time.

But the fast paced industry in which husband is employed sent to him an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up–an opportunity to continue work with his company and  live where we wanted to live. For a good long time.

And we were looking for some permanency, because we had spent the last five New Years in different houses.

Whew, were we ready to be home.

So this couldn’t be passed up. Because ten years ago, when we graduated from high school, together, we would have never guessed that we could be out here in our mid-twenties and starting the life we always wanted.

So husband packed his bags and I kept my job and my stuff in the house that was torn apart from wall to wall. And on the weekends, along with our wonderfully helpful family members, we hammered and nailed and painted and sawed and planned and stained and varnished and cleaned and one of us may or may not have gotten her head stuck in a ladder.

I can’t remember.

And I was exhausted. And I missed my husband. And I was lonely and felt like the winter was never going to end. I cried a bit and then looked on the bright side and then cried a bit more.

Then I went to Vegas.

Me, not winning...

And I met big Elvis and saw Bette Midler and won a dollar and wore my fancy outfits.

Then it was back to the real world, more snow and more building and more missing each other and more tears until one day I finished a job that was challenging and good for me, we cleaned up the sawdust, packed up my shoe collection and the pug, shut the door and put out the for sale sign.

For Sale To the Highest Bidder-the last two years of our lives (and some of husband’s blood with my tears splashed in).

And down the road we went, all of our earthly possessions crammed in husband’s pickup, sweat trickling down our faces, paint on our clothes. Here I would like to say the sky opened up and the sun shone down on us and all was right with the world.

But I am nothing if I’m not real and so I will say instead, I was scared to death. Because I had major plans. And I told people about them. I had this vision of living and having a family and sharing this place with others since I was a little girl.

And here I was and all I could hear in my head, over the birds chirping and the cows mooing and the coyotes howling was my voice…”now what?”

But after a mental breakdown, which I’m sure I’ve told you about, that husband of mine found me out in the grass, and told me to do it already.

Just do it. Do what you want to do. Do what you have always wanted to do.

And I guess all I needed was permission, because in the last seven months, from day two of dropping my bags on the floor of my grandparents’ home, I picked myself a welcome home bouquet and began the journey of  telling you all about it…

…and damn it if you didn’t listen and cheer me on as I kicked off my work shoes and postponed showers and my daily grooming habits to roll in the grass, to walk down the pink road, to bury my face in the neck of a good horse, to climb to the top of every hill on this place and take a good look at it all.

To really see it.

And you laughed with me as I danced in the pouring rain and then shook your heads when I came up with the brilliant idea to fling our bodies down the side of a slippery, deadly, bloody clay butte, defying death and acquiring a nasty case of butt burn.

Good Lord.

You listened as I suffered from the nostalgia a childhood home cultivates and nodded your head as I told you about a youth spent in the dirt and mud and hills of this place, hair wild and dreams big. You helped me welcome my relatives for a family reunion and remember my grandmother, make her jelly and imagine her life here.

You shared your memories as well and I thank you for that.

You came with me as I jumped in the cool North Dakota Lake Sakakawea…

…rode my horse behind one of the best cowboys in the country and fought with the attitude of The Red Fury

…baked my skin under the big, blue sky on the Maah Dahh Hey Trail

….held up a rattlesnake….

and won a photo contest for crying out loud. (What?!)

And as I continued to add to the members of our pet family, you never judged, just oooed and ahhhed over the utter cuteness.

I love that you agree with me on the cuteness…

…and the fact that you never judge me for my obsession with the pug, but cheered him on as he heroically saved a cat from an eminent death and were genuinely worried when you thought that damn dog was lost or eaten by coyotes or mangled from a porcupine attack.

Which is more than I can say for some members of my family. So thank you very much.

We rode our bikes through the summer when we weren’t on the backs of our horses.

You walked with me down autumn paths and got in close as I took my time examining the mushrooms, and stems of flowers, and acorns buried underneath the leaves.

You helped me appreciate the small things–the small things that sometimes go unnoticed. I noticed them because I wanted to show them to you.

And you wanted to see them.

So I thank you for that too.

Together we marveled at the changing of the leaves…

…and welcomed, bravely with teeth bared, the first snow

…in September?


So I took you along, trudging through snow banks, examining the contrast and the shapes the flakes make on their own and piled up like that.

I flung our bodies down snow covered hills and to a screaming stop in a big pile of family at the bottom.

Then you helped me say hello as we welcomed my new nephew into the world with open arms and came with me to Texas, where part of my heart lives…

…and of course suffered through my home movies and maintained your patience as we kneaded the dough in our tiny kitchen.

And you tasted Cowboy’s cooking.

And, again, didn’t judge as I continued my study on his strong jaw line, masculine silhouette and dark, mysterious eyes.

Which is, again, more than I can say for some members of my family.

So, you know, thanks!

So as the new year rolls in and my plans to make you all a place to stay, a place to hike and bike and ride horses and take pictures continue I know the challenges are ahead. I know this. But it is because of you and your appreciation, your enthusiasm and support and thumbs up and kind words that I was able to see this place again–not only through my eyes, my grown up eyes, but through your eyes as well.

Because this year you know I didn’t scale mountains, or travel the seven seas, or save the world in any way.

But I saved myself.

In 2010 I saved myself by finding within me the spirit of a little girl who fell in love with this land and possessed the gumption and  nerve and energy and wild-hair-up-her-ass ideas to maybe make them work someday.

And I have you to thank for that.

So I raise my cocktail glass to a Happy New Year friends.

And to more good stuff, hard stuff, muddy and snowy and annoying and furry and lovable stuff ahead.

Oh, and my New Year’s resolution? To finally get to that damned laundry already….

See ya at the ranch!