A goat and a Lincoln

A Goat and a Lincoln: When Childhood Memories Turn Whimsical
3-12-17
by Jessie Veeder
http://www.inforum.com

Some days, when I feel like life hasn’t thrown me an adventure worthy enough of reflection, I like to dig back in the archives for a memory to recount, the way you do when you find yourself sitting around the table having a beer with old friends.

We all have our favorite go-to stories in times like these, the kind that work in mixed company, just off-kilter enough to reveal something about you to new friends while reminding old ones you were a younger girl and you once drove 30 miles in the car you borrowed from your best friend’s dad, to pick up a goat.

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That’s the story I’m thinking of today.

It’s funny how far your own memories can detach from you, making you a character in the plot line of a life you once led. Everyone seems to remind me of the “hold on tight to these memories” refrain now that I’m a mom, but I should have been warned more when I was kid to hold on to the part of my life where I was 14 and reckless and my best friend was beside me in her dad’s nineteen-seventy-something Lincoln. We were driving on the highway alone for the first time in our lives, feeling grown up and capable, with a late spring rain hitting the windshield, turning the scoria roads bright pink against a neon-green landscape …

Road Home

We used to listen to our dads swap stories around the kitchen table when we were children playing make believe in the other room. We would hear them talk about old times — cars with no seat belts, dirt bike ramps and no helmets, horses that bucked too hard — and I wondered if one day my childhood stories might sound as whimsical to my kids.

I didn’t have much real experience driving outside the prairie trails and back roads of the ranch. But my friend and I were getting ready for our first year in high school rodeo, and we thought we needed to get ourselves a goat to practice tying.

Now, I’m not sure what our parents were busy with that day, or why on earth they at least didn’t send us with one of the ranch pickups to take the 30-mile drive in the rain alone to buy a goat from the neighbor’s farm, but that’s the way it happened.

We were an innocent enough pair as far as young teenagers go, and I was born with enough old woman running through my veins that my parents were pretty confident I wouldn’t dare hit any speed higher than 55 … and anyway, the Lincoln couldn’t go much faster.

But, oh how quickly that old lady was driven out of my 14-year-old veins when the open road was before me and my best friend was beside me, and there was hardly another car on the road. My confidence was building with every mile and every mile-per-hour I got closer to the speed limit, until I turned off the highway and onto the church road and decided to really gas it to get a good splash out of that puddle.

That Lincoln jerked hard to the right, fishtailing on the gravel before ramping off the shoulder of the road then sliding down the slope of the ditch and coming to rest at the front of the deep mud trench it buried itself in next to a freshly planted field.

The world outside that old car evaporated as my friend and I stared silently and straight ahead for the moment we needed to evaluate if we were still alive.

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Once we found our breath, we found each other, sucked back a few tears, and then, eventually, found the spare tire in the trunk, just in time for one of the neighborhood grandpas to find us.

What a sight we must have been there — two soggy, pathetic kids standing in the rain and in the agonizing moments between freedom and a lesson.

But maybe not as much of a spectacle we must have been when we finally headed back home, slow and steady down the highway, wild and young and free, just two best friends and our goat standing on the backseat, popping his head up between us.

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The law of the land and other gruesome truths…

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I grow vegetables. Vegetables attract bugs. Bugs attract frogs. Frogs eat bugs. I like bug-less vegetables so I like these frogs. So I don’t mind when I wear my shortyshorts to the garden and they jump splat on to my bare legs. Nope. Love them.

And because we live right by a stock dam we have the slimy creatures hanging out all over our lawn. Dozens of them jump up and make their presence known when I wander out there. I don’t mind protecting them from my stupid dogs. We help each other out.

Or at least I try…

But I still can’t get over that unfortunate incident with the lawn mower last summer. It haunts me. I was so careful. I was giving them time.

But that particular frog needed more.

And that’s nature.

The law of the land.

And that’s what this week’s column is about…

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At the ranch, circle of life can be tough to witness
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

When I was a little girl my big sister and her friend rescued a baby robin from a knocked-down nest. I was so young at the time that the memory doesn’t have any details, except for the way that creature’s eyes looked before they were open, all blue and puffy, and how naked and impossibly fragile it was.

Tonight I’m out on my deck listening to the coyotes howl and watching a couple does come down the hill to take a drink in the dam. They’ve been creeping slowly toward their spot, shaken but not deterred by what sounds like a muskrat slapping and splashing in their water hole, and I’m wishing he would cool it. I mean, all those girls want is a little drink.

The way we do this circle of life thing seems so painstaking sometimes.

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A few weeks ago all of the ranch dogs turned up with porcupine quills in their noses (well, all but our big old Lab who learned his lesson years ago when he came home full of sorrow and one tiny quill barely dangling from his nostril).

So my husband and dad had the task of pulling a few quills from snouts after work that day. It wasn’t the first time.

And if those dogs don’t learn their lesson, it won’t be the last.

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These are the things that happen out here. Sometimes between the beautiful sunrise and sunset we’re reminded that nature is not the Disney movie we’d like to imagine it to be.

For example, earlier this summer, Dad was driving his side-by-side down the road with his brother and his two dogs. They were taking it slow, noticing the scenery and catching up when he noticed a baby killdeer running and flitting beside them. So he slowed down and remarked on the tiny bird, pointed it out to his brother, marveled at the little creature. And just as he finished saying some tender thing about being a witness to new life, his pup jumped out and snatched it up, bit it right out of the air like a scene out of an old Loony Tunes cartoon, feathers flying, tiny bird leg dangling out the dog’s mouth.

And that was that.

I have dozens of similar stories that I could pull out of the archives to help illustrate my point, like the time Mom’s cat drug a not-quite-dead-chipmunk into the house, or the one where my husband smashed a mouse with his boot in the middle of our living room in the middle of Easter dessert while his big sister stood shrieking on our couch.

And I have one about bats that I don’t want to get into right now, but why I’m bringing this all up in the first place is because just the other day, in the middle of a visit about the baby, my grandparents and my nephew going to kindergarten, Mom pulled out the latest.

“Oh, did I tell you about the bird in the sink?”

No. No, she hadn’t.

“Oh, I was standing at the sink and a bird flew up out of it.”

“Wait. A bird flew out of your sink!?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Well anyway, it flew up at me and then started banging against the window and so I screamed.”

“Yeah, I bet you screamed.”

“And Dad came huffing in, wondering what was going on, you know …”

“Because you’re easily startled.”

“Yeah. And so he was able to grab the bird against the window and bring it out to the door to set it free.”

“Oh, that’s good.”

“But, well, then I heard him holler, ‘Don’t look, don’t look!”

“Oh, no …”

“Cause the cat was out on the deck …”

“Oh. No.”

“And as soon as that bird left his hands, well, she got up off her chair and snatched it up, and that was that.”

If this were a Disney movie, I think that would have turned out differently.

Yes, the law of the land is hard to buck sometimes.

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Unfinished Projects

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Coming Home: Not alone living amid the unfinished projects
by Jessie Veeder
8-7-16
http://www.inforum.com

If I were more of a linguist, I would have the term for it. But you know what I’m talking about. It’s that crack in the Sheetrock in the living room, right in the corner above the TV that really peeved you off when you first noticed it.

Why didn’t we get that fixed months ago?

OK. So I’m a woman who has been living in a house under construction for most of my married life. Because I wed a man who has just the right amount of knowhow and crazy to take on complete house remodeling projects and then, when that didn’t kill us, a near complete build from scratch.

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Right now, as I type, I’m sitting on a deck that, for two and a half years, has been partially completed. It’s really nice and will probably be even nicer when he finally gets around to building us a staircase so we can get down to the lawn without going through the house.

I’m looking forward to that even if it means I’ll feel less like Rapunzel, sort of trapped up here, looking down on my little lawn kingdom complete with an incomplete retaining wall and barbed wire temporarily stretched across where those nice garden gates will hang someday.

Someone needs to get married out here again or something so we can get the rock siding finished, for crying out loud.

Yes, I’ve learned to be patient. Because what choice do I have? I don’t have a clue how to build a staircase and I’m not crazy enough to attempt it under the “if you want something done you gotta do it yourself” motto. Carpentry was never one of those skills I really cared to acquire. I’ve acquired enough skills I didn’t want, thankyouverymuch.

Oh, I know I’m not the only one who suffers this way. I mean, I have a few friends who live behind manicured lawns along city streets who spend their weekends checking off lists at the Home Depot and even they have a missing tile somewhere. Right?

Right???

Anyway, while I’m becoming alarmingly immune to unfinished projects, I was reminded that I’m not alone by none other than my own flesh and blood last weekend when I enjoyed a few family suppers on my parents’ deck, gathering together because my uncle was home from Texas for a few days. My parents have a backyard that has a sweet view up a beautiful, tree-filled coulee. Their deck is right off their dining room and kitchen, making it easy to enjoy meals outdoors on summer nights.

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If it wasn’t for that dang screen door.

Seriously, that screen door. I swear. It’s been years, YEARS, of needing to have the right touch to get it to slide open, of guests struggling with a plate of food in one hand and a desperate look of awkward panic on their faces as they attempt to find that right maneuver before being rescued and let outside by my dad, who eventually always just sort of kicks it off its tracks and says something like, “I swear I just fixed that.” Mom makes this aggressive sigh of resignation before we can all sit down and relax until, heaven forbid, someone forgot there was noodle salad inside.

And I only mention this because it makes me feel better.

About all our unfinished trim. And the crack in the Sheetrock.

And this island of a deck.

If I were a linguist, I’d have a word for it.

If I were a carpenter … well … I’d probably have more unfinished projects.

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Sunday Column: What they didn’t tell me

IMG_6853They didn’t tell me that I would have the appetite of a teenage boy or that I would be more hungry feeding a baby than growing one. And so they didn’t tell me that I would have to acquire a new set of skills, like eating cereal with my left hand while feeding the baby on my right.

They didn’t tell me how horrified I would be the first time I dribbled a little of that cereal milk on her head or that I would get over it by the third or fourth time…or that spilling my food on the baby’s outfit would actually be a thing.

And they didn’t tell me that my baby might not look like me. Or my husband really. And that, despite our certainty that the tiny human would show up with brown eyes like ours, it might just happen that hers will turn blue. And that it’s weird and sort of wonderful how she is so incredibly and uniquely herself.

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And they told me my body would never be the same afterwards, but they didn’t tell me that would be the last thing on my mind, because the first thing on my mind would be getting it to do what it needed to do.

And they told me that it might not work out, that feeding her would be painful and mind-numbing and the hardest and most time consuming commitment, but they didn’t tell me how proud I would feel when it did work. They didn’t tell me that putting her on the scale at the pediatrician’s office to find that she’s gained pound after pound and inch after inch would have me puffing out a chest that no longer fits into any of the shirts or jackets in my closet, beaming with pride to have one of those babies with rolls and squish.

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No, they didn’t tell me how relieved I would feel about all that eating and pooping. And they certainly didn’t tell me how loud babies can fart.

Or how far they can shoot their puke…and that it sometimes comes out of their noses…

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Yes, they told me that we would never sleep again, but they didn’t tell me what it’s like to be awake, just her and I, in the peace of the early morning when even the wild things are quiet.

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And they didn’t tell me that I could be simultaneously lonesome and fulfilled. How I could cry tears of joy and frustration at the same time. How my favorite time of the day would be the first smile at 5 am.

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And they should have told me not to panic if things don’t go right, because next week I would have a new set of worries and wonder. And they should have told me that so I might be prepared for how that phenomenon sends you wishing for time to speed up and stand still at the same time.

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And that I would be crazy in so many different wonderful and worrisome ways.

They should have told me about the crazy. And then they should have told me that the most important thing to have on hand is not diaper cream or nasal aspirators or yoga pants, but a good dose of patience.

And then they should have told me that it wasn’t all going to be wonderful, but that it was all going to be ok…

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Coming Home: A new mom can’t be told everything
by Jessie Veeder
1-31-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Before Edie was born, I was the queen of reading up on what was to come, from the “Top 50 Baby Must Haves” to “Tips to Make Your Baby Smarter.” I talked to other moms, too, about what to expect when I brought my baby home. All were so willing to share tips for gas (because her baby was gassy) or information on the best diaper cream (because her baby got rashes).

But sprinkled among the overwhelming advice was the resounding declaration that “every baby is different.” Which is helpful to remember when you hear about a baby who only falls asleep after an hour drive in the car and, two years later, still wakes up every two hours. It gives you a little sliver of hope.

Yes, there are so many things they tell you, so much to learn, and while the whirlwind of Edie’s birth left me awestruck, in pain and completely in love, when my husband and I stepped foot into our house, our 8-plus-pound baby in tow, I soon realized that I could have spent a lifetime collecting advice, but in the end, just like every baby is different, so is every couple, every mother and every household.

Because I didn’t come across one article that discussed what it was like taking care of a newborn in the middle of a North Dakota winter, 30 miles away from the nearest grocery store or doctor’s office, married to a husband who had to go back to work after the first week of his new baby’s life.

Tip No. 1 should have been: With a nursing baby in one hand and your cellphone in the other, you can magically make almost anything arrive at your doorstep. Just don’t be surprised that by the time the new shelves/special diaper cream/adorable baby cardigan arrive, you likely won’t remember you bought it.

Because that whole pregnancy brain thing has nothing on the brain you receive with a newborn. Nobody talked much about that.

Perhaps they forgot. Just like I forget where I put all five of Edie’s pacifiers.

And there are plenty other things they forgot to tell me. Like, when changing a diaper, have another one ready. Which seems like a no-brainer now, except at 5 a.m. when your baby has literally pooped in your hand and you realize you don’t have a brain anyway.

That’s the other thing no one tells you — that poop-in-your hand story will suddenly become a go-to conversation starter with your mom/sister/random stranger in the grocery store.

That is, until you see your baby’s smile for the first time. I suppose no one can tell you what that’s like.

Or how you will put on a thousand miles bouncing and walking your baby around the house, and how after she finally falls asleep, you will miss her.

And everyone likes to wish you good luck with the sleepless nights, but no one told me that getting up to feed my baby at 3 a.m., in the dark and still of the early morning, would be my favorite time with her and the best moments of my life so far. Because the days are long, but the months, the years are short. That’s something everybody told me, but I wouldn’t comprehend until I packed away the newborn clothes just a few short weeks after she arrived in this world.

And until now I couldn’t possibly understand the new kind of trust I would place in my husband, or the physical toll motherhood would take on my body, or how hard but so incredibly important it is to hold on to the parts of me that are not solely mother so that I can be the best version of myself for my family.

Or how, at the end of the day, your body may be drained and your wits may be frayed, but you’ll lay down in the dark and hear your baby breathing in her crib next to you, safe and calm, and, well, that’s all I can say, because there’s no list or conversation in the world that would have prepared me for that.

And I can’t help but hope that in that way all of us could be the same.

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Sunday Column: Press that red button

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This weekend, between feeding, burping and rocking the baby, I worked on collecting photos on my computer to put into photo albums, a sort of New Years resolution (besides trying to cut back on the caramel rolls and donuts I’ve grown accustomed to during my pregnancy) I’ve set aside for myself after suffering a major computer and external drive meltdown a few months back.

I don’t want Edie’s memories to be stuck on some broken hard drive somewhere.

And this Christmas the importance of that resolution became even clearer when we dug out a couple old VHS tapes from the back room and spent the afternoon waiting on the prime rib and watching ourselves, scratchy and sorta blurry, on mom and dad’s big screen t.v.

I was five or so with my big sister, inside a cardboard box we made out to be a t.v., doing a Jergens lotion television commercial bit.

Then carving pumpkins in the little kitchen, our mom pregnant with our little sister giving our dad the very classic and signature (still used to this day) evil eye when he put the camera on her and her big belly.

And then there we were, when she was born, my big sister holding her arms out like a ballerina waiting for her turn to hold the baby, the same way she does today waiting to hold Edie.

But this week’s column is about what was most precious about those moving pictures my family captured in the year of the first camcorder, 1989 or so I suppose, purchased together by the family to help us remember on cold winter afternoons like these.

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Because to hear the voice of my grandmother again, to see the way she climbed up on a horse, the way her husband teased her and she teased back, to see them interact right there before our eyes twenty-some years later, not only reinforces a memory, but may help create one, on just an ordinary day, that might have been lost.

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Because some people leave us too soon and all we’re left with is what we remember and what we’ve done to help us do so.

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And just those few minutes we got to spend in the past that day stuck in my guts and so I spent the Christmas celebration trying to remember to put my phone on record, to capture Edie smiling, to capture a gift exchange or a conversation between aunts and uncles gathered in the same room, little moments that might seem mundane at the time but could mean the world to us some day far away.

Coming Home: Give yourself the gift of recording family moments
by Jessie Veeder
1-10-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com
 

We watched her from the couch, her silver hair tucked up under her flat-brimmed feed store cap, her husband on the other side of the camcorder lightheartedly poking fun at the way she climbed up on her horse, laughing with the reins in her hand as she set out for the gate.

The VHS tape with our family memories found its way into my dad’s hand while he was searching for something else in the back closet. It’s funny how we seem to stumble upon such important things.

The label read something like “Feeding cattle, Alex’s Birth, Dance, 1989,” the year my little sister was born.

The year my dad’s father was battling his second bout of cancer and the outcome looked grim. And until I saw him again, dressed in coveralls and a wool cap emerging from that little brown house in the farmyard, blurry, shaky and worn like the old tape itself, it hadn’t occurred to me the reason the new camcorder existed in my family that year.

 Because Polaroids wouldn’t capture his voice or her laugh or the joke she told about her first husband filming her backside.

So they bought a camcorder. Bulky and not the least bit user-friendly, they read the manual, pushed the red button at the wrong times and carted it around so that they might remember how he dressed when he fed cattle, what he looked like opening a gate and the expression on his face when he cradled his tiny and brand new grandchild just months before he said goodbye to this world.

But of course they didn’t know how little time they had then, not just with Grandpa Pete, but with Grandma Edie as well. Because that’s the trouble with things like time, we always think we have more of it.

It’s been a couple weeks since we all sat down as a family on Christmas unprepared for the emotions that would stick in our guts after seeing and hearing them in living, breathing, moving color, and still I’m stirred.

Because there I was, standing on the stoop outside the little brown house, barely 5 years old, in my snowsuit and stocking cap watching my grandma wrap my scarf around my neck and I remembered what that was like. I remembered that scarf and how she didn’t tie it like my mother did. How she wrapped it tighter and up over my nose.

And there was her voice saying my name, saying “Jessica, why don’t you go stand by your grandpa so your dad can take a picture.” And I turned the other way, acting shy, not knowing much of time or about how some goodbyes are forever.

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Frame by frame we went, the little snippets of our ordinary lives—unwrapping presents at Christmas, playing dress-up with my cousins in the farmhouse, listening to the grownups talk and sip coffee around the table—somehow made extraordinary after all of these years.

And I can’t shake it. As we spent our holiday carting our newborn to holiday celebrations here and across the state to meet relatives, I thought about the way my mother looked at my tiny little sister from across the hospital room, just minutes after she gave birth to that 9-pound baby on her 33rd birthday, smiling and fresh and caught on camera putting on mascara in her hospital bed, just a year older than I was when I had baby Edie. It was a simple moment captured, but it said so much about a woman.

And there were my grandparents, facing an illness that could end a life and welcoming a new one with big smiles, bundled up and fresh in the chill and uncertainty of a new year.

Time has ticked on like it promises to, making televisions bigger, communication easier and access to video more affordable and at our fingertips.

In this new year, even in what seems like the most ordinary times, give yourself a gift and press that red button.

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Sunday Column: Haunted

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

The art of the spook.

Mysterious things left behind.

And the definition of haunting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And who would leave them behind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe that’s the scariest tale of them all.

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

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Sunday Column: Staying young and dancing…

Today I have another trip to the big town to visit the doctor, hear the baby’s heartbeat and make sure things are moving along in all the right ways.

Yesterday was the official transition into the third trimester, and I’ll tell ya, things are getting real…and so is the heartburn.

And while we wait to welcome the new arrival into the family, our family just keeps growing as both my little sister and Husband’s little brother got married this summer.

We celebrated my brother in law’s wedding a few weeks ago and after getting stuck in the bridesmaid’s dress a few weeks back in an attempt to make sure the thing fit, I found myself a seamstress and things seemed to zip up alright…with not much room to spare.

But that wasn’t the only thing we needed to do to prepare for this wedding. No. Me fitting my belly into the dang dress was the easy part. Because my nieces had an idea…a flash mob family choreographed routine to interrupt the mother-son dance, and they had been working on the steps all summer.

And so we were charged with doing the same.

So that’s what this week’s column is about. How the whole family joined in to follow these girls’ lead in the name of fun and how these nieces of mine continue to remind me of what it was like when I was young and the world was my stage.

I can only hope this little one of ours has as much spark and spirit as these three blondies…

Coming Home: Dancing nieces delight mom to be
by Jessie Veeder
9-6-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

When Pops came into the house on a hot Sunday afternoon in July, he didn’t find the typical scene of my husband and I fixing lunch, tinkering with a project in the basement, folding laundry or sweeping floors.

No.

Instead, he heard Bruno Mars blasting from the speakers, turned the corner in the hallway to find the living room furniture pushed up against the walls and three little blonde girls leading their gramma, grampa, mom, aunt and uncle in a dance they had been busy choreographing all summer.

Pops stood in the hallway and grinned watching his pregnant daughter and her husband navigate some version of a step-touch, hip shake, turn combination while the 12-year-old, my oldest niece, called out orders to her grampa to “video this so they can practice it!”

It was all part of a master plan my three nieces devised to surprise my brother-in-law, their uncle, at his upcoming wedding with a sort of “flash mob dance” that consisted of the entire family (who, by the way, don’t have any semblance of rhythm or dance gene in our bodies).

When the music stopped and we realized we had a witness to our rehearsal, my husband shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, this probably won’t be the weirdest thing you’ll walk in on over here.”

But Pops didn’t need an explanation. Having raised three daughters, it wasn’t the first surprise dance party he’s witnessed.

Because with kids in the picture, life becomes one big fun, messy idea after another.

I’ve learned that with these nieces of mine, the first one coming into our lives while we were still in college, reminding us that we weren’t ready to raise one of our own, but we were more than ready to love the heck out of this drooling, smiling, beautiful little miracle, draw pictures of princesses on demand and allow her to perform full makeovers on both of us. In return we promised to teach her how to ride horses, how to keep calm when she steps in cow poop with her new pink boots and attend as many dance recitals as our schedules will allow.

And when her younger sisters came along, the same rules applied to them.

That’s the fun part about being an aunt or uncle before you become a mom or dad yourself. You get a relationship with these tiny people from the start and the benefit of learning about what it means to raise them from the person you were raised alongside.

I’ve been an aunt for 12 years (three of them before I officially joined the family) and I can honestly say there hasn’t been a day I haven’t been proud that I belonged to these twirling, cartwheeling, funny, smart girls because they keep reminding me what it was like to be young and full of ideas, the world my stage.

And last weekend when my husband’s little brother said his vows to his new bride, we officially welcomed a new sister and new nephew to the family, and my nieces celebrated the occasion in style with hours of preparation put into hairdo research, dress shopping, shoe swapping and, of course, making sure gramma, grampa, aunt, uncle, mom and dad were all prepared for their big dance debut.

I stood in my unassuming position off of the dance floor by the DJ, clutching my sunglasses prop and watching as the girls took the floor in formation and the music began to play. After months of practice their big moment had arrived, and with all eyes (and a spotlight) on them, they moved through the steps and two by two the rest of the family joined in, taking their lead the way they had planned.

Cameras flashed, family and friends cheered, my husband and I fumbled through the step-touch, hip-shake, turn combination, the surprised groom wiped tears from his eyes, and my three little nieces soaked in every moment, taking the stage to grow up gracefully in front of an audience that simply adores them.

I can’t wait to be a mom if only to have a chance to be a witness to more big, fun, messy, glamorous ideas my nieces continue to remind me still exist in the world.

Bravo sweet girls, may we never stop dancing.

Sunday Column: Big, beautiful tries…

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(Photo by Phil Breker)

I am a woman with a lot of ideas.

Like, we should build a big barn and host events.

I should plant a giant corn maze and 1,000 pumpkins and we can turn one of our pastures into a pumpkin patch in the fall.

We should pop out the kitchen wall and give us some more room for cooking.

I should pick ten buckets of wild plums and make jelly for everyone from Christmas presents.

google-ing jelly making

We should have a giant summer music festival at the ranch.

We should get some pigs to raise up so I can have bacon for dinner every night…

Yes. Big ideas. Because if you’re gonna go, go all out…isn’t that what they say?

Now, none of the above ideas have gone past conversations around the dinner table or on long car rides. I continue to nag and hint about the pig thing to my husband, but so far there’s been no convincing him, and really, that’s about as far as any of it has gone.

But there have been some ideas that I have followed through with, particularly the one that has lead to my career out here on the ranch. The one where I write and sing and build my business from a spot of passion, but even as I move through my everyday, I am constantly wondering, thinking, contemplating on how I can grow and do more.

Sticker

And I am so fascinated by those who have those big, unconventional ideas and boldly take the leap and see what they might do with them.

As a traveling musician I have had the opportunity to be a part of some big and lovely ideas. Just this summer alone I have sang on a big amphitheater in the middle of the rugged badlands that was once only a blueprint,

been a part of a weekly community party in the street that gets bigger every week, shared a stage with local talent celebrating the music of women, recorded an album with a man in Nashville who went out on his own to produce music the way he wanted and have been a part of a special event in a big, beautiful lodge in the middle of a prairie in eastern North Dakota, a place I get to go back to this weekend to perform at a festival they’re hosting.

(Tewauken Music Festival, September 5th @ 2:30)
Coteau Des Prairies
Coteau Des Prairies 6 Coteau Des Prairies 7
Coteau Des Prairies 9And so Coteau Des Prairie Lodge was the inspiration for my column this week, because, well, great, brave and creative people doing great, brave and creative things is what makes life worth writing about…

Coming Home: Dare to try those risky, beautiful ideas
by Jessie Veeder
8-29-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Last week I loaded up my car and headed way, way east to a big, beautiful, log lodge sitting on a hill surrounded by cattle pastures and a patchwork of fields.

I’d been hired to play music during a special event where guests enjoyed an eight-course meal paired with cocktails mixed with alcohol made at a brand new North Dakota distillery and demonstrations from a local mixologist on how to make them.

The whole thing was cool. I got to sit behind my guitar overlooking dozens of people laughing, drinking and enjoying the beauty of the North Dakota prairie as it streamed in from the big windows, an architectural idea perfectly planned to make you see and appreciate this special spot.

And between my sets they brought me samplings of food, which meant I got to sing, visit and eat.

Not a bad gig for a pregnant lady, I tell you.

But the most awe-inspiring thing was not the event itself, but how an idea like a giant lodge out in the middle of a beautiful nowhere sprung from a family who loved a piece of land and thought they could give others a chance to love it, too.

And that a risky idea like that could morph into the really wonderful reality that is the family-owned and operated Coteau des Prairies Lodge is one of those dreams I get to experience as part of my job as a musician willing to travel.

Like making vodka and selling it in downtown Fargo. I met the guy who made that dream his reality that night, too.

Last week families all across the country dropped their kids off at college with advice to study hard and find their way. And traveling with them from the comforts of their childhood bedrooms to the uncharted territory of campus or a new job is a young person’s idea of what their grown-up life should look like.

As I sit here behind this computer screen typing out stories or behind the guitar singing them to ears I can only hope are listening, in the back of my mind sits that little voice that occasionally peeps up to ask if finding myself a real job, you know, with an office, insurance and a consistent paycheck in this chaotic world might be a better option.

There have been a thousand days I think she’s right.

But then I hear the other voice that hollers a little louder and I remember why I’m doing what I’m doing, not because it’s the easiest choice, but because she sounds like she has some good ideas that could work, and may be be more fun.

Like the young teacher in my hometown who spends his summers taking people fishing on Lake Sakakawea, giving them a chance to experience the way a walleye on the line makes a heart thump.

That’s a cool idea. And there are a million of them, big and small, coming to fruition out there every day.

Like the food blogger I know who turned a big truck into a place to sell gourmet waffles on the weekend and who once invited me to a beautiful meal she catered for dozens of people in between a tree row and a field.

Or the entrepreneur in Montana who opened up a store that sells work pants for women and hosts a music festival that draws thousands of people to a cow pasture on the edge of a town with a population of only 950.

Or my mom, who late in her professional life took a risk and bought herself a clothing store because it was where she could see herself and her ideas thriving.

And it’s all a risk. I’ve lived long enough to know that. If I could tell those college freshmen anything it would be that not even the most thought out, stable career is a guarantee. We’ve learned that lesson out here, too.

Yes, sometimes ideas are best left as ideas, but sometimes they come to fruition in beautiful, terrifying and surprising ways if you dare try.

And I never would have thought that one of the best perks of my weird job is having the privilege of witnessing some dang beautiful tries.

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Sunday Column: Goodbye old friend

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We’re quickly coming to the end of another season out here on the ranch.  School has officially started and my friends are posting “first day of school” photos of their kids, some sending their first borns off to kindergarden for the first time.

I’ve been spending time picking peas and beans, cucumbers, carrots and every red tomato I can find out of my garden, fascinated always by how time can transform dirt into food, just like that.

garden

Fascinated by how time has made it harder for me to bend over and pick those beans every day, made those little flutters in my belly turn to jabs and hiccups…and then, soon, an actual tiny human that breathes this air.

Life and time are twin sisters it seems, conceived at the same moment and moving through the world together hand in hand. And just as time creates and grows life in one breath, it quiets it and takes it away in another.

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And so it goes here on the ranch, the circle of life we’re made so aware of every day among the growing and withering things, reminding us that to everything there is a season.

Last week our faithful ranch dog, Pudge, gave us the gift of living until old age took her away in her sleep.

My husband came home to tell me the news, then went out to the big oak tree where we were married and dug a deep hole in the hard, dry, gumbo packed earth and buried our old friend.

“One day you will hear the sound of time rustling as it slips through your fingers like sand.” Sergei Lukyanenko

Yesterday I was just a kid shaking dirt off the carrots in the garden.

Tomorrow I turn 32.

Today I count the kicks in my belly, make plans to assemble the new crib in the box and miss that old dog…

Coming Home: Goodnight, Pudge, the sweet, tough cattle dog
by Jessie Veeder
8-23-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Lately the coyotes have been howling outside our open windows, slicing the black silence with chilling wails. Inside the garage, our domesticated dogs rise from their beds, lift up their heads and howl back to them, long and dramatic cries, an unnerving message sent between the wild and the tame.

Last weekend, while I was out on the highway heading for home after a late show, my husband opened the windows to the house to let in the night air, turned on the porch light and laid his body out on top of the covers of our bed.

Somewhere between his dozing and me cutting through the dark miles, down the road at my parents’ place the oldest cow dog on the ranch took her last breath, and quietly, one of the most familiar lights on our ranch went out.

We knew it was coming. Pudge, an Australian shepherd with thick, wooly fur, one blue eye and one brown eye, came to us on a hand-me-down after her owners moved to town. Pops, who had lost his previous cattle dog to a snakebite, needed a new animal to help him get cattle out of the brush and to accompany him on rides.

We think she was 4 years old when she came to us. Lately, the topic of her age had come up often. I was in college, or on my way there. Could it be that she was 15? Fifteen and no longer possessing the strength to go for long rides with Pops, but holding on to the spirit of her job by making the walk with him to and from the barn.

That was the last walk they took together it seems.

And now we’ll no longer find her snuggled up in the her spot under the heat lamp in the garage in the winter, in the pickup box in the summer or trying desperately to make her way through the window screen and under the covers of my little sister’s bed during a thunderstorm.

Pudge hated thunderstorms. That might have been the dog’s only flaw.

Because it turns out she was just the right combination of sweet, smart and tough enough to be one of the few cattle dogs on this 100-year-old ranch to get the chance to die of old age.

This place can be hard on the strongest, most cared-for animals who live a life more in tune with their primal instincts than the couch-dwelling suburban pet.

Pudge tried out that life with me once. I took her back to live with me for a little while in college when life was overwhelming me. I’d take her for bundled-up walks on sidewalks and she would sit in the sunshine by the door and watch the cars roll by, comfortable knowing she had a purpose in helping me find my big girl legs again before I brought her back to her ranch where she belonged.

Pudge

Before my husband came home to tell me she was gone, I was pulling carrots in my garden and singing to myself, “To everything turn, turn, turn … there is a season, turn, turn, turn … and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

If you can’t see that manifest itself out here, if it doesn’t become known to you as morning turns to night and summer turns to fall and the hair under your husband’s hat turns silver, you’re not paying attention or you don’t want to know.

It all happens so slowly and then so quickly, as if all at once the time has passed and then it’s up.

I listened to those coyotes howl last night and thought about Pudge, who would sit out at night under those stars, just on the edge of the light that flooded into the yard from the garage. When it was time for the people to lay down and pull the covers up, Pops would call to her to come in and she would pretend not to hear him, preferring a cool bed of grass under that sky to her fluffy bed.

And if Pops gave in and left her out there, she would wake him with her barks and wails to that dark sky for hours on end.

Sweet turned wild in the night.

Goodnight, old friend.

Goodnight. 

pudge

Sunday Column: On love and rotten egg bakes…

Love is in the air this August. Husband and I will celebrate our 9th anniversary likely with brats on the grill and a drive to check the cows (because we’re romantic like that) and at the end of the month, his little brother will say “I do” to his new bride.

This weekend I attended her bridal shower, assured her that I will be able to zip up my bridesmaid’s dress and then picked up an ice cream cone for the drive home.

Because after the cake, I guess I was still hungry…

And delusional.

But being in the middle of this summer filled with vows and love celebration and right on the cusp of my life with my husband changing forever, I’ve been thinking about what it really means to make a life together.

I think every wedding brings this up for me. Because we start it all out with a party, and, well, somewhere between the champaign toast and death do us part comes the really good stuff, the really juicy stuff, the really tough stuff, and sweet stuff,

and funny stuff and gross stuff and stuff you’d rather not mention.

After nine years now I think I can confidently say that love and respect is the only common denominator that runs through our wedded veins day after day. The rest? Well the rest is a crap shoot.

And so in honor of the month I thought I might resurrect and rehash an old post for the newspaper column, the one where my husband lovingly left me a surprise three week old egg bake in the cooler in the heat of the summer…and I contemplated packing up and moving to a fort in the trees.

Because love and marriage is a weird, messy, lovely, frustrating journey…one I’m glad to be on with a man who is strong, handy, playful and forgetful with the best of intentions…one who makes mistakes and tolerates mine.

Coming Home: Love endures, even when it’s hard to like each other
by Jessie Veeder
8-9-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

It all starts with the best intentions. Most housekeeping tasks around here do. Unfortunately, they generally also end with me questioning the meaning of life, love and why I don’t just live by myself in a fort by the creek like I planned when I was 10 years old.

No.

Because sometimes your husband leaves an uncooked egg bake from a camping trip he took three weeks ago floating in a cooler filled with beer and warm, mushy, cloudy, curdled water, and you get the privilege of being the first to get a whiff.

Nothing says love like pulling on your muck boots, turning on the hose and testing how long you can hold your breath.

I love my husband every day. I just don’t like him every minute.

I know for a fact that he feels the same way about me.

I’m telling this story now because in a few days we’ll celebrate our nine-year wedding anniversary. And as my belly grows and our future together teeters on the edge of uncharted territory, I can’t help but reflect on the life we’re having between those “I do’s” and the whole “death parting us” thing.

So far it looks like a combined force of mistakes and small tragedies, goofiness and bad ideas, opinions, forgetfulness and big plans in the works.

But that’s what you get when you’re in it together. You get a witness and a built-in dinner date who sometimes is really late to dinner.

You get a man who takes off his work boots and stinks up the entire house, but you also get a man who will drive around the countryside for hours every day looking for your missing dog, not because he particularly likes him but because you do. And that quiet gesture makes up tenfold for the stinky socks. And the late-to-dinner thing.

But forget the even score because from what I’ve learned, there is no even score. I work late and ruin his fishing plans. He takes out the garbage and I forget to get groceries until we’re both eating saltines and wondering when the new Chinese food restaurant will start delivering to the ranch. I unload the dishwasher, he never remembers where I put the spatulas. I am thankful I married a man who uses a spatula.

No, the chores are never equal because life might be a balancing act, but it sure as heck isn’t balanced (except when it comes to dog puke on the floor. In that instance, I keep score).

That’s why we’ve got each other.

Because life is so annoying sometimes, but I tell you what’s also annoying, that pickle jar that I can never open myself or the flat tire he’s out there fixing on the side of the road in the middle of a blizzard, proving that regardless of our shortcomings, life is easier with him around.

I hope he can say the same for me.

And then I think we’d both say that love doesn’t mean you will ever agree on the arrangement of the furniture, but love went a long way in laughing it off when he backed into my car and forgot to tell me, leaving me wondering when I had a car accident I couldn’t remember.

And initially, love sent him running when he heard me scream in the other room, but there came a time when he started to wait for a follow-up noise because love has made the man mistake a stray spider for a bloody mangled limb too many times.

And, just for the record, sometimes love is not patient. Sometimes it needs to get to town and I’m trying on my third dress of the evening.

And sometimes love is not as kind as it should be. Because love is human.

And no human is perfect. Not individually and surely not together.

Because humans leave egg bakes in coolers in basements for three weeks.