The sun sets on the end of July.
The sun sets on the end of July.
Here’s a quick update from the ranch while the baby is sleeping.
Here she is chilling’ with her post bath mohawk, drinking from her sippy cup and eating puffs. She only really likes to feed herself. Unless she sees me attempting to eat a plate full of food, then she wants what I’m having, and spoon-feeding is allowed.
I don’t think they’ll ever make a stroller meant for the trails I roll the poor girl across. A few trip sup the prairie road to the fields and back and the thing’s sort of worse for the wear. But all that bouncing can be worth something…
and also the reason I almost always put the baby in the pack.
Peace, Love and Huggies,
Jessie and her sidekick
Coming Home: Building good days a gift in this unpredictable life
by Jessie Veeder
Out here on the ranch, for some reason, I like to define them.
And there are about a million criteria for the qualifications of both, which, I guess, is a good thing and a bad thing, respectively.
But it could have been worse.
It could always be worse.
Funny, we say that a lot around here.
Get bucked off your horse and land in a cactus patch? Well, at least it wasn’t your head smashed on that big rock over there.
Couldn’t get the swather running after six hours of tinkering in the field under the hot sun? Well, at least you didn’t have to be in a conference room meeting all day.
Get your four-wheeler stuck up to its belly in the creek again because you tend to think you’re magic when you’re on that thing (Dad)? Perfect. Now I have some material.
When I think about it now, maybe that’s why I found my way back here. Because of the optimism that was somehow always generated even after the day had gone completely haywire. It’s a trait that could only occur in people who truly love what they’re doing. Who wouldn’t be drawn back to that?
Through the years, we’ve had plenty of opportunity for bad days, for long walks home after the pickup quit, for lessons learned about polyester shirts and welding torches, for doctoring a herd of cattle with pinkeye well after the sun went down, saying to one another, “Well, at least the nail you stepped on didn’t go all the way through your big toe,” or “Would have been so much harder without all your help.”
But now that I think about it, it’s sort of telling that we continue to say, “Well, it could be worse,” and skip over the entire concept that in times of tractor breakdowns, man-chasing momma cows and an incident with an exploding motor that almost started the entire barnyard on fire, it could always be better, too.
But just yesterday as I strapped the baby to my chest and took off hiking across the home pasture with my niece chatting happily beside me on a quest to fill my cap with enough wild raspberries to make some sort of dessert, I couldn’t help but label that moment “one that could not be better.”
Even with the flies and the thorns.
We woke up that Sunday morning to a smiling baby and a hankering for blueberry muffins. So we made them. Because, what luck! Blueberries were on sale and I had some in the fridge. So we cooked them up, along with eggs and bacon, and had ourselves a regular, fancy brunch.
And that evening, after stripping the baby down and watching her play and splash in the baby pool on the deck while the sun shone gold on the hilltops outside, after feeding her bananas as she sat in her robe and tiny socks, we tucked her sleepily into bed and ate a supper of grilled brats and beans together around the table outside. My husband put his feet up after a day of fixing equipment, and my niece and I saddled up the two lazy horses in the barnyard and took off together, walking slowly across those hills dotted with wildflowers and berries and we just kept saying, “Well, it’s so beautiful out here isn’t it?”
It just couldn’t be better.
And while I know there are plenty of ways to define the bad days, the days that are out of your control, I couldn’t help but think in that moment how wonderful it is to know that you can build your own good ones.
Last night I went on a walk to close some gates in our home pasture and check a couple juneberry patches.
Juneberries are a special treat around here. Like wild mini-blueberries, if they show up, they show up around this time to much fan fare for those of us who know people who make pies.
Juneberries make the best pies in the world.
Probably because getting to them before the frost kills them or the birds eat them up is so rare, and the entire task of picking enough of the little purple berries sends you to the most mosquito and tick infested, hot, thorny, itchiest places in the free world, so finally making and tasting a Juneberry pie is like completing some prairie, culinary, ironman marathon.
Only better and more gratifying, because, well, pie.
Anyway, my little stroll before sunset was only mildly successful. The gates on this place were made to be shut only by Thor himself. Or the Hulk. Or some hybrid of a bear-man. By the time I grunted and groaned, used my entire body weight trying to push the two posts together to maybe, possibly, for the love of Dolly Parton, stretch the three wires tight enough to get the little wire loop over the top of the scrawny post, I was sweating, cussing, bleeding and wondering how I missed the yeti that we apparently hired to fix the gates on this place.
I called Husband on my cell phone (who was inside the house with the baby, like twenty yards away) and told him there’s no way in hell I’m ever getting that damn gate shut and that shutting the damn gates was his job from now on who the hell do you think I am what the hell is this all about who in their right mind makes gates that tight good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart.
And, if you’re wondering, the gate on the other side of that pasture went about the same way…
Anyway, on my way I did in fact locate a big ‘ol juneberry patch. But the best berries, of course, were hanging out about fifteen feet above my head at the very tops of the bushes. And to get to them I had to wade through thorny bushes up to my armpits. But some of those thorny bushes had raspberries growing on them, so that was a win.
I proceeded to eat every ripe red berry I could find.
Even the one with the worm on it…which I discovered after I put it in my mouth and crunched.
So that was a loss.
Yes, the raspberries, worms and all, were within my reach. The juneberries, not so much. But tonight I’m going to use my best convincing skills to see if Husband might want to come with me to back our old pickup up to that bush, stand in the box, brave the mosquitos and pick us some berries.
Anyway, when I got home I discovered that apparently wading up to my armpits in thorny brush to pick raspberries was not only a good way to accidentally eat a worm, but, even better, it’s a great way to acquire 500 wood ticks.
I came home and picked off a good fifteen or so. Stripped down to my undies, checked myself out in the mirror, sat down on the chair and proceeded to pick off at least five more.
When I crawled into bed I wondered out loud to Husband what time of night I would wake up to a tick crawling across my face. He made a guess. I made a guess.
But we were both wrong.
At about 12:30 or so, just as I had drifted into a really nice slumber, I was indeed awoken by a tick…but it wasn’t crawling across my face. No.
It was crawling toward my butt crack.
Thank good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart, I cut him off at the pass…
Ugh, all I wanted to do was close some freakin’ gates…
Coming Home: In the sweet spot of summer, motherhood
by Jessie Veeder
The cows are milling by the dam and grazing on the short, neon green grass that’s growing just on the edge of my fenced-in yard, sending the dogs into a routine of nervous little ticks.
Speaking of ticks, those are out in full force too, of course. And not one author of a parenting magazine, blog or book has mentioned how unnerving and annoying it is to find one of the buggers crawling up the tiny pant leg of your baby as you walk across the pastures with her strapped to your chest so she can look up and learn about how the sun lights the tips of the trees and makes them sparkle.She doesn’t seem to mind the creepy parts of summer as much as I do. Babies haven’t yet learned to be bothered by such things. But I’m not about to let some little pest keep us inside for my favorite time of year.
Because I have things to show this baby. Today she’s officially half a year old. It feels like a lifetime ago that we drove her across the cattle guard to the ranch for the first time, drive-thru Thanksgiving dinner in the console of the pickup.
And I guess it was. It was her whole lifetime ago …
I keep saying it’s crazy how fast and slow it all goes at the same time.
A baby calf is born and it immediately and instinctively wobbles to its shaky legs. In a few days you can find him bucking and leaping across the pastures, kicking his heels up to the sky, testing out what it means to have four hooves and a snout.
On the deck this morning our barn cat sits by the door, looking at me through the screen, waiting for a pat on the head or a bowl of milk.
Out in the barnyard somewhere she’s hidden a fresh batch of kittens. Last night my husband took my 12-year-old niece out to look for them, to listen for the whimpers and cries of their tiny new lives so that we might catch them and tame them before they open their eyes and grow wild.
Last weekend I sat on the floor of my living room and sorted through piles of hand-me-down baby clothes my sister-in-law sent for Edie. There were sun hats and swimming suits, shorts and sweaters, snow pants and pink socks. In one bin I pulled out a tiny green and red plaid Christmas dress, one that I recognized from a holiday spent with their family when that 12-year-old niece was small — small enough to fit in that frilly little dress.
This morning as I type she’s downstairs playing peekaboo with Edie. She’s come for a week to help out, to babysit, ride horses, tell me stories about her friends and look for baby kittens.
Wasn’t I just playing peekaboo with her? I swear it was just yesterday but maybe it was a lifetime ago.
Well it was. Her lifetime.
Tomorrow I’ll wake up and Edie will be almost 13, too.
But today as we roll into the sweet spot of summer, where everything is fresh and new, the calves are kicking, the frogs are croaking, and the turkeys are gobbling outside my window.
I can’t help but relate to this season. Because I feel like I’m in the sweet spot of new motherhood, navigating a fresh and fleeting time where the world is so new to her and so completely changed to me that it might as well be a new life all together.
Except for the ticks. I remember the ticks from my other life.
As the weather’s warmed up a bit, we finally get to spend some time outside. And it seems I was given the right baby because Edie loves it as much as I do.
And as much as the dogs it seems. Every time I put her in the carrier, eyes facing the world in front of her, she calms. She looks. She kicks her legs. She laughs at the dogs running in front of her. She looks up at the sky and smiles.
I wish it were spring and 70 here forever, and maybe that she would stay little, so that I could take her out like this every day.
A few weeks back on a pretty nice day (yeah, these photos are from a few weeks back…I’m not as quick on the updates as I used to be) Little Man came over to visit and we all went out on a walk, Little Man, Little Sister, Pops, Edie and I.
Little Man wore Husband’s cap to keep the sun from his eyes and Little Sister wore Edie because when she’s here the two are stuck together like glue.
Edie wore her hat and and sunglasses and other hat and snowsuit of course. Because it was warm but not that warm. And windy. And sunny. A typical North Dakota spring day and a girl’s gotta dress the part.
Pops grabbed a walking stick.
I grabbed a camera and we were off on a hike up the hill and past the dam and through the trees.
A hike that soon turned into an imaginary dinosaur hunt where we all got assignments and duties from the Pre-schooler.
Pops was the hunter, Little Man was the scientist, I was the photographer and Little Sister and Edie needed to be on the lookout.
Maybe when Little Man grows up he’ll be an actual scientist, but he’d also make a pretty good movie director.
And while we were hunting for bones we looked for spring.
The weeks that passed since taking this walk and taking these pictures has greened things up considerably. Edie has even gotten to go on a walk without her second hat and snowsuit, so summer’s just around the corner.
And I have so many things to say about spring out here. You know me. I want to tell you how I got back in the saddle for the first time since finding out I was pregnant over a year ago and it was the best therapy in the world. And how I saw and heard a rattlesnake outside our fence the other day while I was on a walk and it scared the shit out of me. And then how we watched two elk come down to water in the dam outside our house and no matter how many times we see them it’s still pretty magical.
And how the blossoms smell and how, when I call Gus back, Dolly crouches down beside me and waits to tackle him when he arrives. Every. Singe. Time. And it’s hilarious and Gus deserves all the pestering he’s receiving.
I want to tell you how I love this little boy, who just graduated from Pre-school and is on to Kindergarten in the fall, who wants to be a cop and a scientist and a cowboy and everything, he can’t pick just one.
And there’s more I have to say, you know there is, but the baby is waking in her crib an it’s time for our morning snuggle. So I’ll just leave you with this…
Happy Thursday and Happy Spring. May you find time to get out and enjoy it with your nephew and Little Sister and your Pops and your baby and your dogs…or whoever you love who you can convince to go dinosaur hunting with you…
It’s that time of year. The in between phase, where it can’t decide if it’s winter or spring so it rains then it shines then it snows then it freezes then it shines again and the crocuses come up and the trees work on blooming and then the wind blows in some weather and it starts all over again.
And I can’t help but feel like the seasons. Four months ago when we first brought Edie home the world was sleepy, resting for a few months, waiting peacefully under the snow and cold for its time to wake up and start growing things. I sort of felt the same. We were in the resting period before the growing period. Snuggled up and sleepy and wondering what the next few months might bring.
Most winters around here feel like they last forever. I press my nose up against the glass of the windows and doors and whine about freezing. But this year I can’t decide if it all went by so fast or if it was the longest winter of my life.
On one hand I’m not convinced it’s spring, because I feel like I missed winter all together (due to the haze I was in from feeding, burping, diaper changing and watching this baby’s cheeks get chubbier) and on the other hand the complete change of life, the 180 I experienced from late fall to early spring makes me feel like December was a lifetime away.
As I watch the spring wind whip and bend the trees outside the house I feel as conflicted as the weather. We need the rain and snow, but not when the calves are being born. So I pray for rain to help green up the grass, but please Lord, let it be warm rain. My prayers and hopes have stipulations.
As if I can control anything.
I know better.
But the grass is getting greener despite an unusually dry year and although I haven’t seen one for myself yet, I heard the crocuses are sprouting on the hilltops, reaching up to the warm sun and blue sky, opening their petals. The newborn calves are running, jumping, kicking up their heels in the wind, happy to be here. The birds have come home to perch on my deck and look in the window. The two geese float on the damn like they do every year right besides the mallard couple, getting ready to start their family.
And we are watching here, commenting, taking it all in in awe like we do when we get our spring back.
I look at my little girl kicking her legs, reaching for noses and hands and the world she sees before her. She’s rolling over now. She’s already sprouted two teeth for cryin’ out loud! She’s looking out the window. She sees things and her eyes fixate. I think she’s wondering. I think she’s learning. She laughs with intention, like full on belly laughs that light up her body, and she smiles like the sun on those crocuses on the hill.
I can’t help but look at her now and think that she’s truly waking up to this world. If we were winter the first three months she was born, resting and feeding and getting ready for a change in weather, this little baby is wide awake. She’s spring embodied.
And just how we feel compelled to take in every moment of the beautiful weather we’re granted, in all its indecision and change, soaking in and learning about this baby’s personality–keeping her safe, rocked, fed, entertained and maybe sleeping some day–is marvelous and exhausting and a down right miracle.
And it’s my favorite. My favorite time of year…
So we’re not really into sleeping at night these days, but the nice weather lately has gotten us really into walking, especially since Edie is big enough now to face out and see the world.
A world that looks like this.
Brown and muddy and full of puppy slobber.
And, it turns out, cactus. Of course cactus. Because here in Western North Dakota if it isn’t the cold it’s the mosquitos. And if it isn’t the snow it’s the damn cactus.
As I type this I have a few little wounds on my hands as a reminder. Because as peaceful and angelic as this little scene might look from the still capture of the camera, it turns out taking a walk across the pasture with three dogs, two puppies and a baby strapped to you looks a little like, well…
Finish eating lunch. Finish feeding the baby lunch. Look outside and notice the blue sky. Check the temperature gauge to make sure the blue sky isn’t deceiving. Decide that 50+ degrees calls for a walk. Decide to take a walk. Change the baby’s diaper and put on her leggings and socks under her footie onsie. Add a fleece jacket on top of that. And a hat. Tell her not to cry about the hat. Tell her this is going to be fun. Go find your hat. And sunglasses. And sweatshirt. Make sure your shoes are by the door. Detangle the baby carrier. Adjust the straps the way you’ve practiced and latch them together the wrong way first, of course, and then the right way. Cuss a little and wonder how you can make this so complicated. Go get the baby. Make sure the pacifier is clipped to her fleece. Put wiggly baby and dangly pacifier in carrier. Adjust those straps so you’re both nice and snug and cozy. Walk toward the door and realize you forgot to put your shoes on first. Say shit. Grunt and groan and remember what it was like being pregnant as you try to squeeze on your shoes without fully bending over or seeing what you’re doing. Sweat. Get shoes on finally. Kinda. Good enough.
Open door and go outside. Yell for the dogs who come barreling at your legs. Try not to step on the little ones who are rolling and frolicking around your sorta-half-tied shoes. Decide to take the trail to the east pasture. Maneuver your body and the baby strapped to it under the fence. Because around here you have to cross fences. Wonder if that’s in a baby book anywhere. “How to cross fences carrying a baby. Find the trail with the least cockleburs. Stop to remove cockleburs from your shoe laces. Try not to step on the pups as the gray one grabs the brown one’s tail.
Laugh. Try to take a picture. Fail at the picture. Wish you had your big camera. Or another set of arms.
Accidentally step in a mud puddle while laughing at the puppies. Notice Gus is out of site. Call for Gus. Notice the baby’s sleeping and the sun is in her eyes. Use one hand to hold her head and the other to shield her face.
Keep walking. Sweat. Sweat. Sweat.
Make it to the gate and decide to go off trail to stay out of the wind. Immediately regret it as you lead the puppies through a patch of cactus. Hear the gray one cry. Bend down. Grunt and attempt to fling the cactus from his wiggly paw with one hand while holding the sleeping baby’s head with the other.
Wonder if you strapped her in the baby carrier and sat with her in bed if she would sleep through the night.
Figure it would be likely, but also likely cause neck issues.
Cuss because now the cactus is stuck to your hand.
Grunt as you get back up. Keep walking. Pet momma dog. Find a trail. Avoid mud. Call for Gus because he’s chasing a rabbit in the trees.
Pet big brown dog. Notice little brown pup is limping. Say shit. Lean over to try to grab her wiggly leg with one hand while holding the sleeping baby’s head with the other. Get another cactus stuck to your hand.
Decide you’re glad your almost back to the house.
Step in horse poop. Go through the gate. Try to take the least muddy path. Get a lot of mud on your sorta tied shoes.
Pick up some more cockleburs and start planning the spring bur eradication process.
Make it to the driveway. Wonder if you can put the baby down and she’ll stay sleeping. Think it’s highly unlikely. Try to get in the garage without a puppy following you. Get one puppy out of the door as the other one runs in. Do that about three times and notice that momma dog got in the garage someone. Get her out.
Open the door to the house.
Sweat while you try to quietly maneuver the sleeping babe out of the carrier and into her swing without waking her up. Curse the sound of velcro and the burs still on the back of your pants.
Set the baby in the swing. Notice her eyes are still closed. Pat yourself on the back. Head to the bathroom because you had to pee that whole time.
Come back to the living room to find the baby smiling, eyes wide open just hanging in her swing.
Because we don’t sleep much around here.
January’s a good month to have an excuse to stay inside with a baby.
All the snuggling, singing and miles put on pacing and bouncing the burps out in front of the fireplace is as good of an activity as any when the thermometer registers well below zero.
And while I love it, I am also restless. Having spent every other winter of my life able to bundle up and hit the trail or the road on a whim sometimes sends me pressing my nose up against the window.
The light is already starting to linger longer, and this baby is already starting to hold her head up and make little noises, but I find myself daydreaming about smushing her leg rolls into a little swimming suit and hitting the beaches of the big lake this summer.
And that’s a rough daydream, because I already think she’s growing up too fast.
So in an attempt to beat cabin fever and to force myself to stay in the moment, last weekend Husband held down the fort and the pacifier and I made a plan to trek out and about around the barnyard, ignoring the fact that it was literally -20 with the windchill or something like that.
I would just stay in the low parts of the place, avoid the wind and try to squeeze my fat ass into my long underwear, under sweat pants, under snow pants I could barely button up.
I just needed to take a tally of all of the frost, put a flush in my cheeks and sweat a bit.
Because while I have a new role now as a mom, there are things I know about myself that help keep me balanced.
I need to go outside. It’s imperative for me to remain the best version of myself.
So I did.
And I froze my face off.
And came in after only about fifteen minutes.
Happy to know that all was as it should be in January.
Frosty and freezing…
Windy and white…
And pretty in a middle-of-winter sort of way.
And it felt good to be frozen, only to warm up…
with a warm fire and the best stuff waiting for me inside.
It’s been over five years since Husband and I unpacked our things to live forever on this ranch and over five years since I’ve been writing about what it means to come home here in this space.
With each passing year the story of the seasons has become familiar, repeating its chorus of changing leaves,
lush new grass, buds on the trees
and heat on my skin.
And as the earth goes about its regularly scheduled changes, life happens to us humans and changes us as well. Only we’re not like the seasons. We don’t come back around to start over again each year. No. When a leaf falls off, we don’t grow a new one next year.
When our grass turns brown, we don’t get another chance to water and green up in the spring.
Our whole lives are measured in one spring, one summer, one autumn and one winter.
And then we go back to the earth.
I’m looking out the window now at leaves partially blown off of the oak trees. Gold and brown. Those are the colors left now. We’ve had a long autumn. It is supposed to be 80 degrees tomorrow.
We haven’t seen a fleck of snow yet.
It hasn’t truly cooled down.
I guess each year is different. Like each life is different.
And I can’t help but notice now, with this theory in play, that I’m on the cusp of entering a new season of this life of mine.
I’ve had a long spring. A long sort of youth unattached to the responsibilities of fully caring for another human being. Responsible only for my own vision, my own love, my own outlook on life, my own plans and my own story. I’ve been in much of this season with my husband, together, in spring, cleaning up, building space, making plans, basking in the promise of warmer days ahead, being torn down by the set back of the big, unpredictable rains that made us change directions.
This baby kicks my side and reminds me that spring is running its course.
It’s coming to a rapid end.
And that the summer we’ve looked forward to, the warmth, the calmer weather that makes way for everyday adventure, is within view.
Five years ago I had no idea what I was going to do with my life out here. I knew that I would love it and appreciate it for all the reasons I loved and appreciated it in my youth.
But what would I do for work? What would our forever home look like? How would I ever figure out how to keep my pantry stocked perfectly living as an adult 30 miles from the grocery store the way my mom always did?
Now that we decided to settle down out here, who would I ultimately become?
And I suppose that’s why I started writing it all down. Because after asking a question like that the only logical next step is to try to find the answer.
Except for that “ultimately” part.
I don’t think we find that in the spring or the summer of our lives. I think those are the last chapters waiting to be written in the fall when we harvest what we’ve set out to produce and in the winter when we rest to reflect.
I look back now on the things I’ve written down along the way and I know it’s helped me discover that I’m a little stronger than I thought I was, with a hint of brave, but not too much that my knees don’t shake at the thought of a big idea. And I think I figured out what it means to me to have fun along the way.
But discovering my ideas, cultivating them, that’s what the safe haven of this home always gave me growing up and I’m so glad I let my guard down enough so that it could continue to work its magic in that way even after the freedom of childhood wore off.
I think the 8 year old version of me would be pleased to know that we’re still writing and singing and riding horses in the home we love so much.
I take a lot of stock in imagining what that little girl would think of us now.
So I can’t help but wonder what she would say to me now that I’m about to become a mother…
Lately I’ve found myself reflecting on this question, trying to tap into the memory of what it was like to be so young, trying to remember and understand what was done by my parents to help cultivate my imagination, to give me protection and freedom at the same time.
Now that I finally feel I have a grip on what kind of woman I am, I have an entirely new uncharted landscape of motherhood ahead of me, and I can only imagine, a whole new set of stories to write and reasons to be inspired to see what I’m made of.
And I’m thrilled for the chance to add “Motherhood” to the list of categories.
And a little bit scared.
And a little bit brave.
On the cusp of a new season…