Why God made wheels…

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If she had wings, she’d never come down from the sky.

That’s why God made wheels for this girl of mine.

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And once I thought He made her so we could show her things.

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But it goes the other way.

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Because she reminds us of a better, wilder world, every single day.

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Stick Shift…Shit

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Why I blame my dad for my stick shift struggles
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I have a confession to make.

In the years I spent growing up out here on the ranch as well as those being all grown up here on the ranch, I have never properly learned to drive a stick shift.

Oh, I can make it work. I can get from Point A to Point B if Point A is the house and Point B is the barnyard over the hill, the hay yard, or my parent’s house a mile down the gravel road, but that’s where my gear-finding, clutch-pushing confidence ends.

I know, I know. It’s embarrassing. Some things are just expected of you living out here among cows and barbed-wire fences. But I have a handicap.

And I could say I have no one to blame but myself, because I’m ultimately responsible for taking the initiative to master something I need to know, but forget it.

I blame my dad.

I blame my dad and all the old, impossible, gear sticky, seat-stuck-too-far-back, ancient and impossible pickups he enlisted to teach me to drive back in the day.

I mean, how’s a girl to grab a chance at finding the right gear when the gear indicator knob long ago popped off and rolled around on the floorboards before meeting its ultimate fate in some brush patch Dad was fencing one day in 1995?

Am I in reverse? The only way to find out is to release the clutch and hope I don’t kill it before rolling backwards while simultaneously hoping I’m not in first because there’s not much room for error in the 10 inches between the front of the pickup and the shop.

And that wasn’t the worst of it. There was one pickup he tried to teach me on that you literally had to push down a hill like a Flinstones car to get started. And once it turned over, well, you had to keep it gassed for fear of starting the whole ritual over again.

God forbid it quit at the bottom of a coulee somewhere.

Some of the biggest fights I had with my dad happened behind the wheel of his old pickups where he more than one chose the “just leave her to sort it out” method, and frankly, my pubescent tears of frustration just didn’t allow for that sort of sorting it out.

That’s the flashback I had yesterday when I suggested my husband run me through the workings of the hydraulic bale spear so I can feed cows on my own. I had left chicken baking in the oven, and we brought along the wiggly toddler who wants nothing more than for me to just scooch on out of there and let her take over.

Needless to say, I had a few distractions to blame for me killing it 37 times between my attempts at picking up and rolling the bales out.

But we were in Dad’s pickup, the one with the sticky gears, missing gear knob and seat that doesn’t move forward, so I blame him.

I will always blame him.

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The beasts, in their final resting place. RIP…RIP…

Me and my shadow

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The snow melted into big rivers today, shrinking and sinking the drifts in the draws and creating a glorious slop of mud along our prairie trails and I’m hoping we’ve seen the last of the white stuff for the season.

History has taught me better though.

But we’re honing in on another spring season and I’ll take the warm up where I can get it.

I take to the hilltops like I do every year to check out the thaw.

In my other life the only thing that indicated the passage of another winter was a collection of fresh gray strands in my hair and new lines on my face.

These days it’s chronicled by my shadow…

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It’s my honor to carry this child across this prairie and through the quick tick of the clock, sun up and sun down, spring, summer, fall, winter and then again and again until she can climb these hills herself, without my hand to hold, and find for herself a dry place to lay in the sun the same way my dad taught me to do on the first warm day of spring.

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I hope this place is forever her refuge.

 

Because of the women they were yesterday…

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It’s International Women’s Day.

Yesterday the wind blew snow across the plains at 60 miles per hour at times. I got out of bed at 6 am after a completely sleepless night with my one-year-old. I climbed in the warm shower and got my hair washed and legs shaved. I pulled on my robe and shuffled downstairs to wake my finally sleeping daughter, to kiss her cheeks, to change her diaper, to get her dressed, to send her out the door with her dad so she could spend a day at daycare and I could drive in the wind three hours across the state for work and then drive myself home again hopefully in time to miss the dangerous and snowy dark and to rock my baby to sleep.

I’m a mother living on a 100+ homestead at the end of a long winter.

Some days I feel lonesome and isolated.

Most days I feel fortunate.

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Every day I think of the women in my family who raised kids before me out here on the edge of the badlands before electricity, before telephones, before washing machines and the conveniences of our modern world that make it easier for women like me to pursue my own dreams.

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My grandmother Edith as a young woman helping on her family farm

I wish I could talk about dreams with my great grandmother Gudrun who came to the United States from Norway at sixteen years old and raised twelve children out here in the early 1900s,  in all our brutal seasons.

8. Great Grandma Gudrun and Great Grandpa Severin Linseth and their 12 children Edith Linseth Veeder is center in the plaid

Great Grandma Gudrun with her twelve children, my grandma Edith in the center in the plaid and bow

I wish I could talk dreams with my grandma Edith, one of Gudrun’s middle daughters, who grew up on that homestead with eleven siblings, married the neighbor boy, taught school children on the reservation next to the ranch, raised three kids and took many others into their small home and worked cattle alongside her husband, making sure breakfast was served in the morning and supper was on the table at night.

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Grandma Edith holding me

I wish I could talk dreams with my great-grandma Eleanore, who raised two boys on her own as a working woman after the war in a time where single mothers weren’t a common thing.

And I am so grateful I can talk dreams with my mother’s mother, my grandma G. I’m grateful that I’ve taken the time to ask her what it meant to raise four girls in the fifties and sixties as a working career woman. I’m grateful she’s shared with me the struggles and accomplishments she’s found so important to her and to the lives of her daughters so that I can better understand how far we’ve come.

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My grandma Ginny with three of her four daughters, two of her four granddaughters and one of her two great granddaughters. 

And more than anything, I am thankful for my own mother who taught me to persevere, to pay attention, to laugh, to be kind, to recognize the struggles and have compassion for those different than you, to never be the victim and to work hard.

Always work hard.

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I have become the woman I am today because of the women they were yesterday. 

Let’s celebrate that strength in our past and look to the future with muscles flexed today. 

For a little motivation, a little celebratory music, here’s “Work Girl.”

A country kid needs a town kid

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Door always open to home of old friend
by Jessie Veeder
2-16-17
http://www.inforum.com
Fargo Forum

I used to go to her house in the time between after school and basketball practice. I would eat graham crackers with cheese, and we would sit at the table in her family’s kitchen, her mom popping in to say hi and get the scoop on our day.

I was a country kid in junior high, and I had a few years and a few tests to pass before I got my driver’s license, so the chance to participate in after-school activities meant finding town friends who would save me from roaming the streets between the last bell and the starting practice whistle.

She was one of those friends for me. In the fragile time between elementary school and being ruled adult enough to leave home, she played a role in my adolescence that not only helped me survive it, but made me feel like my quirkiness (weirdness?) was not only accepted, but also appreciated.

I could make her laugh, and she made me feel safe in a friendship at a time in a young girl’s life when friendship is often volatile, fleeting and prone to drama.

(Except for that time in eighth grade when we got the rebellious idea to walk down to the local drug store to pick up a couple boxes of hair dye and disastrously turn her perfectly blonde hair blaze orange and mine a weird color of navy blue, our 20+ years of friendship has been pretty clear of drama.)

I can’t speak for her, but I feel so lucky and sort of surprised by it sometimes. As childhood friends go, our stories are linked in many ways, but in many more ways we are completely opposite.

As a teenager, she was focused, practical and matter-of-fact where I was uncertain about fitting in. I was messy and disheveled; my car was covered in scoria dust and full of pop bottles and dirty socks. I was creative and in my own head, tentatively tipping my toes in the wild edge of bad decisions. She made her bed every day, washed her car in the driveway on the weekends and showed confidence in who she was — solid, studious and pretty well-behaved — no matter who approved.

She was long and lean with coordinated limbs built for sports. I didn’t have an aggressive bone (or muscle) in my body. And while basketball, volleyball and track turned into her high school passions, I traded sports for music, rodeo and high school love.

So our schedules and interests didn’t allow us to easily spend every waking minute together the way many childhood friends are often defined, but I hope she looks back on those days and says I was there when she needed me.

I know I can say that for her. Because if there was a quality I’d like to steal from her (besides those long legs and lungs for long-distance running), it’s that I might be as fiercely loyal.

I’m thinking about her today because we got to spend some time together last weekend as we often do when I head to the big town where she lives with her husband raising two sports-crazed boys between the sidewalks.

Whenever I make a trip there for music or shopping I give her a call and her door— just like it’s always been — is open for her friend who usually rolls up later than planned in a dusty car, plastic bottles and spare mittens spilling out onto the driveway.

Not much has changed as we tallied the years, except we’ve gotten closer. I’m going to give her most of the credit there. My loner and introspective tendencies don’t always make for the best phone-call-maker and catcher-upper. It’s a weakness of mine that I’m humbly aware of, one that’s disconnected me from some of my favorite people. But she’s hung on to me in the ways only people who really understand one another tend to do.

And when I called last weekend to tell her we were going to swing by to say hi on our way to go furniture shopping, she offered to watch Edie to help save our sanity and ultimately feed graham crackers to the next generation of country kid waiting out her time in town.

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Hot Dish and Ice Slabs and how to stay warm in the winter

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Coming Home: Hot dish and ice slabs key to staying warm in the winter
by Jessie Veeder
1-22-16
http://www.inforum.com

Northerners. We like to boast that we’re hardy and resilient and can stand up against the biting, sub-zero, blizzardy cold without much consequence besides a bad case of hat head.

We can handle our feet and our pickup tires on icy paths, and we know how to hunker down and make it through on hot dish and hot soup.

We like to say this place isn’t for the faint of heart.

I say these things too, but sometimes while using up a good 40 minutes and all of my back muscles shoveling 200 of the 15,000 pounds of snow off our deck, I start making a list of all of the reasons people live closer to the equator.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now having lived up here for the majority of my life, but the truth is these North Dakota winters have always been hard on me.

The inevitable bitter cold and lack of sunshine starts to convince me that I’m doing all the wrong things in the wrong place and that life is harder and sadder and more desperate than it really is, sending me into a bit of a depression I’m always aware of but have never been successful at curing without help from the weather.

It’s a lonely feeling, but I know I’m not alone in it.

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No matter what we like to say to make ourselves sound tough and resilient I think we all struggle a bit with the deep freeze and endless white of this season. This is what I tell the new residents in my community with southern accents, trudging through the grocery store line in brand new muck boots and knit beanies pulled down over their ears wondering out loud how much colder and how much longer.

I’m not sure it’s hopeful or particularly helpful, but I try to stay as honest as the place that raised me. “It’s cold. It sucks. But we’re all in it together,” I say.

Maybe that’s the key to surviving it, but I think it’s something our ancestors might have been better at, perhaps because they didn’t have a choice between human contact and three billion television shows piped into our living rooms where you can watch other people live their lives in warmer places, like Antarctica or the moon.

But nothing warms your body and lifts your spirits better than living, breathing bodies eating, talking and laughing in a house together.

And lately I’ve been noticing more boots in the entryway and more dishes in the sink, a result of the invites, phone calls and drop-bys that have piled up as family and friends work to beat these winter blues by simply finding ways to be in closer proximity.

Because no matter the plot line, it turns out actually living your life is more interesting than watching pretend people live theirs.

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I suppose that’s what I was thinking when I agreed to be in a weekly curling league, a brand new endeavor organized in my hometown to give the community another cold weather weapon.

Curling is a winter sport that’s been explained as golf on ice, so I have no business being there really, considering it’s a combination of descriptors (ice/golf/sports in general) that have been known to torture me in the past.

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My team consists of my husband, little sister and brother-in-law, and between the four of us, we have about a solid 10 days of actual curling experience, eight of which reside with my husband. But it doesn’t matter, because knowing what we’re doing isn’t the point (although my husband suggested I consider working less on visiting and more on technique).

The point, I think, is the very reason a weird sport that sends you slipping and sliding across the ice yelling “sweep” at your teammates was invented in the first place — because they didn’t have Netflix in the icy tundras of medieval Scotland.

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But, just like us, they had plenty of ice and we might as well use it to get some laughs out of this long, cold season.

Because this place may or may not be for the faint of heart, but maybe by spring I can add curling to the list of reasons people chose North Dakota over Texas.

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A chance to warm up

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Well, I’ve bitched enough about the bone chilling weather lately, it’s time I’m finally able to praise this much appreciated January thaw.

I wasn’t sure if we were going to get one this time around, but I guess I can count on it again. And boy, did we need it, for the cattle and for the kids and for low North Dakota spirits everywhere.

I drove to town the other day and it was 41 degrees. It might as well have been 70. I went by the little donut shop and the two girls were outside shoveling in their t-shirts and sunglasses like they were in California. I guess I couldn’t blame them. I felt that way too.  I didn’t bother with my coat, in fact the sun shining in the window of my car made it too warm in there, so I opened up the window and listened to my tires splashing up slush on the pavement.

It’s because of January that I’ve never minded the mud.

We took advantage of the beautiful weekend and spent Saturday continuing work on my video for my song “Northern Lights.” Turns out dad doesn’t mind a third take of him walking up a steep snow bank in his snow shoes when its 35 above zero.

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And I don’t mind standing there watching him either, thankful for things like snowshoes after watching the filmmaker sink up to his waist trying to situate the camera in a snowbank.

But after today the snow has cleared off the tops of the buttes and the 10 foot drifts have shrunk down to 8 feet drifts. And the snow on the table on my deck melted enough to remind me of the three casseroles and  two pies I set out there to chill on Thanksgiving.(So that’s where that glass bowl went!)

Ahhh, I love it. Really. I wouldn’t mind January in North Dakota if she always behaved this way. And by that I mean staying above the 0 mark on the thermometer and chilling on the whole wind thing.

But knowing that’s not in her nature, so we take what we can get. On Sunday my little sister and I took turns taking Edie on sledding runs down the icy road in our yard.

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(Don’t worry, we weren’t going as fast as the screams would have you think…)

As you can imagine, she loved it.

She loves the cold actually. It’s weird. You take her outside, the cold air hits her face and she comes alive, squealing and laughing, waving her arms and legs, squishing up her face in delight.

I plop her in a snowbank and she flings snow up in the air like she’s splashing in a swimming pool, not giving a care in the world about where the cold stuff lands on her face.

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I swear, this kid was made for this place, it’s like she just sprang out of the slick clay one day and announced her arrival. She’s reminding me about the magic this place holds and I love her for it.

It’s all just an adventure.

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Tomorrow’s Friday and we have the weekend ahead of us that we intend on filling with house construction projects and outdoor chores. Edie’s getting to the age where it’s fun to take her along. I bought her a pair of little boots and today, just as I was bundling her up to take her outside to test them out, Pops poked his head through the door and we piled in the pickup to go feed the cows.

“This is what you’ve always dreamed about,” he said as we watched Edie squeal at the cattle lining up behind the bale we rolled out for him.

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Leave it to Pops to take the ordinary trials of a Thursday and turn it into a reminder of the simple things we live for.

Thanks Pops.

And thanks January sun for giving us a chance to warm up.

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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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Gathering Memories

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Yesterday, after months of combing through the archives, I’ve finally compiled and submitted a collection of what I think tells the story of my relationship to memories, family and place for the book I’ve been working on. I’ve been back at the ranch for almost six years and have been writing about it since day one.

The process of combing through the stories, musings, recipes, poems and photos captured during these years was different than I expected. I felt a little like this deer outside my window, trudging through the pileup trying to reach the open road. Reading through pieces written during the months we first moved back to the ranch and into gramma’s little brown house, I was reminded of just how much this place inspired me and how it gave me the opportunity to see it again with new and grown up eyes. Coming home restarted my music and my writing. It coaxed me to pick up a camera. It made me creative again.

Reading back through the archives reminded me of this. And it made me grateful and happy and lonesome for the little brown house and the young woman with all those plans.

And it also made me a bit crazy. Spending that much time by yourself in a quiet house trying your best to focus, wondering what it is that people might want to hear from you will do that to a woman.


I’ve been working on it for months and I’m sorta sick of myself, but so grateful for the opportunity and sorta proud that I stuck to writing it all down so that I can look back on the winter of 2010 and remember those snow drifts and that young woman who claimed to the top of the biggest hill in sub-zero temperatures just to catch the sunset.

On nights the baby doesn’t sleep or supper is a third helping of leftovers, it’s nice to be reminded that that hill and those snowshoes and that sunset is still out there. And it’s even sweeter knowing that you all want to go along on that walk with me.

That’s been the best part of all, the knowing that you’re out there listening and reading and sharing your stories with me too.

That’s the whole reason I started writing it down in the first place, so that we could share a piece of what we love about our life on the ranch in the middle of nowhere western North Dakota, and that story and your support has gone further than I could have imagined.

And so that’s why I’m doing the book. To give you something to hold in your hands, to page through, to touch and give as gifts and sit on your coffee table as a reminder of the common little memories, moments, fascination and love we share of this beautiful weird wide-open life we’re living

And I don’t know everything about anything, just a little about horses and how to play guitar, but as we grow older we gather things; books and news, fine china and canning jars. 

Broken down pickups with no back seats…

Me? 

I gather memories.

Thank you for reading. 

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When life reminds you

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

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

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

These are the little things I often take for granted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, no, no,” I said to her.

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

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

She whined back and threw her cup to the ground.

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

And then I thought about it.

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

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

“Ok,” he said. “I’m on my way home.”

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

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

Only he didn’t answer.

He always answers.

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

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

Is it happening to us?

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

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

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

And then the phone rang.

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

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

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

“I’ve been reminded,” I whispered.

OK. I’ve been reminded.