Yes to Apple Day

Coming Home: Say “Yes” to Apple Day

Last weekend, my friend up the hill invited us — and the entire contents of my little sister’s apple tree — over to her house for what she refers to as “Apple Day.”

Apple Day sounds like what it is — an entire day dedicated to transforming the fruit of an over-productive tree into delicious treats we will store away for the long winter so that we can pull them out and reminisce about the three minutes of summer and one minute of fall we once had — and that time we all got together and canned 700 quarts of applesauce, assembled 3,000 apple crisps and made 500 from-scratch pies.

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“Mmm, tastes like a perfect autumn day,” we’ll say as we serve it up over ice cream, likely to the very same friends who we made it with, so I won’t be able to take much credit because it’s my friend who’s the brains of the operation.

And my sister and I? Well, we spent most of the day saving our babies’ lives from the big chunks of choking hazards we kept dropping on the floor.

And stirring.

And eating.

Because when my friend does Apple Day, she makes sure she has banana bars, three different soups, bread and a sample of our newly created crisp in the oven. And ice cream. Always the ice cream.

It was a lovely day. Because yes, we got to take home enough treats to fill a freezer, but mostly because it’s always been like this with her, my oldest childhood friend, and it was nice to stir up the memories.

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My mom likes to tell the story of her as the tiny 3-year-old she used to babysit who gave my mother a tutorial on how to properly crack an egg while standing on her tippy toes on a stool in her kitchen.

And when we were growing up, my friend would lead the charge of recipe creations made out of ingredients like Hot Tamales, angel hair pasta and marshmallow cream. If it sounds disgusting, it was.

But so was the green garden pepper smeared with peanut butter she convinced me to eat when I was 10. Turns out that’s actually a thing her family eats.

So now, whenever I taste an out-of-the-garden-pepper, I think of her freckled, sunburned face laughing as I spit it out cartoon-style.

It’s the same way I think of her and I standing in the road ditch north of my place every time I taste a Juneberry pie that is never as good as the one she made from the berries we plopped in that bucket tucked into the sling where my casted arm rested, a result of a summer horse injury that didn’t really stop us.

Nothing really stopped us back then. And now look at us, all grown up with a thousand excuses to say no to the things we think we don’t have time for, like standing side by side rolling out dough and laughing.

And so today, for so many reasons, I thank God for a friend who says yes. Yes to pie and a house full of kids who get to grow up with sweet memories tucked away, too.

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Keeping the spirit.

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It’s been a long week at the ranch. I’m not going to lie. We’re still holding our breath, waiting to hear that dad’s condition is improving, but with this sickness, it’s one step forward and one (or two or three) steps back. But we’re trying to stay positive.

And we’re leaning on our family and community.

And we’re trying to keep the traditions and spirit of the season surrounding us, not just for our babies, but to lighten our own hearts.

This week we decorated the Christmas tree with baby Rosie rocking in her swing while her big sister declared everything to be so “bootiful.”

On Sunday we attended our rural church’s Christmas program and were surrounded by the love of our neighbors and the light of these innocent little children who are absolutely cherished.

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Rosalee was Baby Jesus #5 and Edie was a lamb, who wouldn’t perform until the woman in charge gave her a microphone. And so she was declared my daughter (as if it wasn’t already apparent).

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And I was determined then to keep that Christmas theme up for the rest of the day and so we baked Christmas cookies.

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Little Sister and baby Ada brought us the kind that come out of a refrigerated tube and they turned out imperfect and ugly.  Edie spent a good hour shaking sprinkles on her one special cookie, and she was delighted by the whole thing while I frosted the rest and Little Sister worked to keep Ada’s little fingers away from the frosting. But it was something to keep our hands busy while we tried to quiet our minds from the worry.

The worry’s always with us. But this season especially, I’m trying my best to dig deep and stay calm and believe in better days to come.

It’s something I know now that my parents have done for us in our lives when loss and sickness and uncertain times have knocked on their door. I know now what it’s like to want to curl up and cry, but there’s breakfast to make, diapers to change, Jingle Bells to sing and babies to rock.

Because this is life. And it can glow and sting all at once…

Before Rosie arrived I wanted to hold her safe in my womb until our lives were put back in place the way she deserved them to be when she entered this world, as if I had control of such things.

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Now I know better. To be simultaneously happy and terrified is exhausting, but we needed her here with us, to keep us busy, to make us smile and to patch the aching parts of our hearts up with hope.

Last weekend we loaded up the pickup with the girls, my little sister and baby niece to take a drive across the ranch looking for a wild cedar to cut for our Christmas tree. This is a ritual we started with Dad when we were just little girls, and it felt good to be out there, working to keep in the tradition of the holiday. We rolled and bumped slowly along prairie trails and fence lines, stopping to watch a herd of elk cut through a clearing and up along the horizon.

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“Look at that Edie,” we exclaimed. “Look at the elk!”

“Ohh,” she replied, her eyes wide with wonder before turning to me and asking, “But where are the hippos?”

And sitting side my side the cab of the pickup, dressed up warm for a long, cold season, our frazzled nerves were calmed for a moment as we all let the air out of our lungs and laughed.

And I said a quiet prayer of thanks for these children who remind us to keep breathing.

Today I can do nothing but be thankful for our little lights.

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Prairie Parent: Carrying on my Mother’s Christmas Traditions

This month’s Prairie Parent celebrates the holidays. Check it out online and read my “From the Editor” piece reflecting on how mother’s are often the real Santas of the holidays.

Becoming my Mother. Becoming Santa Clause.
From the Editor, Prairie Parent
December 2017

And while you’re at it, enjoy my mother’s fudge recipe. I’ve shared this before, but since it’s not likely she’ll be able to send out her fudge packages to friends and family this year, perhaps you can make and share this in her honor. I know she’s going to miss being home for Christmas this year. But I’m going to try my best to keep her beautiful traditions going while she’s away this holiday and each Christmas here after so that my girls can have the warm Christmas memories I’ve been fortunate to cherish.

Momma’s Mouth Watering Fudge

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 12 oz package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 12 oz package milk chocolate chips
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 pound of butter (No worries, I’ll post my Momma’s instructional aerobic video after Christmas)
  • 1 12 oz can evaporated milk

Got it?
Ok, onward.

  • Butter an 8×12 baking dish
  • Bring sugar and evaporated milk to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to stir and boil for 7 minutes.
  • Remove pot from heat and stir chocolate chips, vanilla and butter.
  • Stir until smooth and pour into the buttered baking dish
  • Refrigerate until set
  • Ask your hubby or the woman in your life with incredible strength to help you cut the fudge into squares
  • Serve up on a cute platter and stand back and smile as you experience that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with spreading holiday cheer.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of my book “Coming Home” there’s still time to get a signed copy before Christmas! Recipes, photography, poetry and stories from the ranch. It makes a great gift for the prairie lover in your life.

Order it today at www.jessieveedermusic.com 

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A little Christmas reality

I’ve been a mom now for over a year, so needless to say, I’ve learned plenty of lessons. Like, every day is a lesson on how much sleep you actually need to live. I’m still alive (I think) so apparently you don’t need much.

Last week was one of those weeks at the ranch that I think all parents look back on with fondness and then relief that it’s over.

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It started on Sunday when, after the church Christmas program, 2015’s Baby Jesus #4 turned 2016 Angel #6, leaned in for a snuggle and puked the puke of the mighty all over her mother, down my shirt and into the deepest unclean-able crevasses of the easy chair, and it just sort of went on from there….

and into a week that started with a sick baby and ended with a trip to the big town sixty miles away on the coldest day of the year (like -50 windchill) to pick up Husband’s broken brand new pickup from the shop only to find what we all already new…diesel pickups don’t start in sub-zero temperatures when unplugged and outside.

And in between (after rescheduling for the third time due to that damn month-long blizzard thing we’ve been dealing with) I finally got a chance to get Edie to her one-year photos and one-year shots only to discover upon arrival (and the arrival of her general foul mood) that the poor child was in the process of cutting all four molars and both of her eye teeth at once, just in time to smile for the camera.

Which she managed to do in true Edie fashion, in between fits of sorrow.

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Little did she know that the torture I was putting her through in the name of memories and photo books and embarrassing her at her high school graduation wasn’t going to compare to the torture coming to her next in the form of four big needles.

And that’s when I learned my biggest lessons since the birthday glitter catastrophe of November 24th:

#1: Don’t schedule shots and photos on the same day, even if it will save you a trip. Save your sanity instead.

#2: Planning a child’s photo session is a good way to invite disease or disfunction to your family.

But we made it through like we always do and everything is fine in the whole big picture. Last night I got home late from singing at a Christmas concert just in time to fall asleep and wake up again to rock my poor crying baby with a runny nose and a mouth full of teeth back to sleep in months between 3 and 4 am, which sets me up nice and exhausted for the week of Christmas.

But at least we finally got our tree. The week before the deep freeze, sub-zero temperatures, snow drifts up to my armpits and general good naturedness of an ongoing North Dakota blizzard finally had me persuaded to give up on the whole cutting-our-own-Christmas-Tree tradition and just get one in town for crying out loud. And so that’s what this week’s column is about.

It’s about the expectations. And then it’s about the reality.

And the truth is, the reality, in all its mess and mayhem, just can’t compete with the fantasy because, well, it’s real. It’s our life. And I wouldn’t trade it.

Puke and all…

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Coming Home: Christmas in my mind different than reality
by Jessie Veeder
12-18-16
Forum Communications

When I was dreaming of having a baby of our own for all those years, I ran through how it might look in our house at Christmas: cozy and warm tucked in the trees, hot cider on the stove, a fire crackling in the fireplace, our baby crawling playfully around the fresh-cut cedar we found together on the ranch under a blue sky and after a little impromptu snowball fight.

I held onto that dream through all those childless holidays, come hell or 75-below zero windchills. Even when daylight and landscape were against us, we rallied, we bundled up and took the time to find a tree and make a memory.

But that was back when we took our time for granted.

That was before we had a one-year-old, a house to finish, cows to feed, a broken pickup in a snow bank and a series of days spent getting stuck and unstuck, stuck and unstuck in 50-mile-per-hour winds and miles and miles of snow banks in our way.

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Yeah, this December all it took was one look out the window, the sub-zero temperature gauge and the calendar boxes quickly counting down to the big day and suddenly I became a little more flexible on that whole Christmas Tree Tradition thing. Not that I couldn’t count on my husband to try plowing through the snow banks to make it happen if that’s what I wanted.

But what I wanted was not to freeze my nose off having to pull him out.

And also, I wanted a Christmas tree before New Year’s.

So we went to town.

You heard me.

We had to get some things anyway, like light bulbs and doors for the rooms in the basement, so we might as well pick up one of the last sorry trees they had left in the back, all wrapped up tight and snug and out of the whipping winds.

And the baby loves to go shopping.

You should see her in a store, smiling and waving at everyone, babbling like she’s in a parade. So maybe we made the right choice, swapping a sled for shopping cart…

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Anyway, we picked out our rugs and our Lysol and our spindly, $35 Christmas tree and while I strapped Edie in her car seat, my husband strapped that sorry-looking tree to the roof of my SUV.

And it was a sight somehow reminiscent of both the Griswolds and Charley Brown’s Christmas as we drove an hour home, through the badlands and into a dark, 30-below zero, regular North Dakota blizzard, the heat blaring as we sipped the fancy grocery store coffee we grabbed on the way out of town.

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When I was rocking Edie by our tree last year, her tiny wrinkly body pressed against my chest, peaceful and innocent, I imagined what the next year’s Christmas would look like — a different kind of chaos, ornaments hung on the tree just above her reach, her squeals of delight at the pretty lights, an evening spent watching Christmas movies while we wrangled her up and decorated the tree together as a family.

Well, that’s sort of what happened … just replace the whole “squeals of delight” thing with my sick baby projectile vomiting down the inside of my shirt, all over her favorite blankie and in the deepest cracks of the easy chair.

Change “ornaments hung on the tree” to “the house strewn from wall to wall with partially unpacked boxes of frozen decorations and a tree losing about a thousand needles by the minute.”

Then finish it off by swapping “together as a family” with “my husband in the barnyard pulling Dad and his pickup out of another snow bank while my glass of wine and I found the least breakable ornaments to put on the tree at 10 p.m.”

No, it wasn’t the magical Christmas tree tradition I imagined, but it was real, and you know what? I’ll take it. For so many reasons, I’ll take it.

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The fabric of a family.

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Coming Home: Lake traditions become more precious with plus-one
by Jessie Veeder
7-17-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I spent last week in vacation mode, which to some might bring to mind palm trees and tropical drinks by the pool, but to me it meant packing up for a weekend of tradition.

And the husband and baby, of course, with a bottle and a plastic baggie full of toys for the six-hour drive.

And along the way a stop at the store to get the things we don’t currently own, but need. Like deodorant and blue nail polish and tonic water for our vodka drinks. And a baby lifejacket.

Because we were heading to my grandparents’ lake cabin in Minnesota just like we have done every year for the Fourth of July since the beginning of time, except this time, of course, we had a small and chubby plus-one, who apparently comes with a lot of baggage.

Like a one-ton, long box, pickup full.

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Seriously.

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But to carry out the holiday properly in my family, there are things you need to carry with you. Like at least one patriotic outfit to wear while sitting on the dock sipping bloody marys, waving an American flag at the pontoons decked out for the Fourth of July, tooling by the shore in the boat parade.

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Oh, the lengths we go to hold on to our traditions.

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That’s what I was thinking at 2 a.m. as I bounced the baby back and forth in the small backroom of the cabin, the one where my parents likely sat up with my little sister summer after summer, sweating, swatting mosquitoes and willing her to sleep while my other sister and I snuggled under thin blankets in tiny beds in the screened-in porch.

In a few hours my little family would emerge from that room and shuffle to the kitchen, say good morning to my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, grab a couple doughnut holes to go with the coffee we sip on the deck together and catch up while the family of ducks swims on the calm lake.

I can predict it all, the summer sausage sandwiches, the pontoon rides around the lake to look at the houses, the trip to the flea market where Dad stocks up on homemade jelly and Mom finds the best old furniture, the campfires and the fireworks lighting up the dark lake. All of those expected moments are more important to me than ever before now that I have a baby to raise.

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Because our rituals might remain the same year after year, but they can’t stop time from chipping away at us.

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I watched Grampa flip his famous pancakes on the stove in the little kitchen while Gramma fussed over us all crammed around the table, the same sort of breakfasts we’ve shared since I was 7 years old and suddenly, 25 years later, it all seemed a little less predictable and so much more precious.

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So I suppose it’s more than a vacation—this tradition has become the fabric of what it means to be a part of this family.

I walked out into the shallow lake with my baby as the hot sun beat down on Minnesota. In front of me I watched my grandmother, 80-some years old in her floral swimsuit dip her body in the water and swim out past the sailboat just as I have watched her do for years and years. Baby Edie kicked and splashed and I willed her to see it.

I wished she would remember this.

I hoped for forever right there in that clear lake with the blue house behind us and the future pressing cool and heavy on our hot skin.

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Sunday Column: Rolling out the Welcome Wagon

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This is the view around here these days.

I can still see my toes, but the opportunity is growing smaller by the minute.

It’s a strange thing to know that my shrinking pants mean a growing baby. And this week I’ve officially met the halfway point of this baby-growing process.

And while the baby’s been growing,  me and the belly have been hitting the road pretty hard, playing music and promoting the new album, celebrating weddings and 4th of July, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, making dinner plans, sitting in the sun and trying to catch a nap here and there.

With so much time spent behind my guitar, I’m thinking this baby is going to come out with a set of lungs prepared for an amplified world.

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And I have a hunch it’s really gonna like bacon.

Because that’s been on the main menu around here these days…

In less than five months now, it will no longer be me and my belly going about our business, but me and Husband working to show this baby our world.

I am not prepared.  But I think I’ll tackle it the way I’ve tackled all of life’s unexpected promises–with a flexible plan, a willingness to take it day by day and a few moments of panic here and there for good measure.

So that’s what this week’s column is about…that flexible plan and how I am certain life is just going to be more fun…

Coming Home: Family traditions will be more fun with little one
by Jessie Veeder
7-12-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I’ve been thinking lately about traditions. I suppose it’s expected, because in less than five months we’ll welcome a tiny new member to our family and spend our time showing her (I’m just going to go with “her” for now) around this place, introducing her to the people who love her and teaching her about the things that make up our everyday lives.

As my waistline continues to grow and the little movements in my belly start becoming more present and familiar, it’s beginning to occur to me that the countdown is on. We’ve been waiting seven years for this, and now we need to get it together.

And I’m not just talking about adding to my sparse collection of baby gear (I currently have three onesies, a dresser I picked up at a flea market and a free pacifier they gave me when I broke down and bought my first pair of maternity jeans), but we have less than five months to roll out the Welcome Wagon.

I mean, we all know I love a good party, and I just can’t help but thinking about all the things that will be so much more fun with this kid around.

Like, for example, when she arrives it will be just in time for Christmas. Finally. A baby for Christmas after seven years of saying to one another, “Well, maybe next year we’ll have some little presents under this tree …”

If all goes as planned, this is the year, which reminds me, I need to start looking for a tiny Santa hat.

Because before she can even see 20 inches in front of her face, she’ll be sitting at her first Christmas Eve Pancake Supper (likely wearing that tiny Santa hat), and I just can’t really imagine it, no matter all the people warning me that my life will never be the same.

Well. No. Of course it won’t.

God willing, of course it won’t.

Last weekend, we celebrated the Fourth of July the same way we have every year since I was a kid myself by heading to my grandparents’ lake cabin in Minnesota. We met up with my aunts, uncles and cousins and ate summer sausage sandwiches, tried our hand at catching sunnies, built a campfire and watched the fireworks go off all around us.

As I was yelling “No running on the dock!” for the 47th time to my nephew and little cousins, it occurred to me that in a few years that will be my kid running on the dock.

And so I felt the need to warn my family that, based on my husband’s history and genetics, it’s very likely that this baby bump will turn into a child attempting to jump head first off the end of the dock fully clothed and without proper swimming lessons on her way to test out the neighbor’s water trampoline, invitation or no invitation.

Because I’m realistic about the way behavior traits and personalities pass on, and I am fully prepared to blame my husband for all wild and unruly conduct.

And then I looked over at my cousins, who I watched grow up on the shore of Lake Melissa, and realized that next summer the two youngest, the twins, will be making plans to head off to college.

I remember when we all found out they were going to be born and at the lake cabin my family cheered and hugged as small waves licked the rocks outside the picture window and my uncle tried not to faint at the new news.

Seventeen Fourth of Julys later and here we are, basking in the ease of a tradition, regulating squirt gun fights, reminiscing on years past, anticipating a growing family together and telling me to be careful on the rocks.

This year my car was filled with a guitar, gear and merchandise after a show I caught with the band on my way across the state.

Next year we’ll have to clear out some room for a car seat, a stroller and a tiny little swimsuit.

Which reminds me, I need to start shopping for a car seat, a stroller and a tiny little swimsuit, because, well, it’s time to start loading up that Welcome Wagon.

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The Christmas Tree Plan

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This is what -2 with a -100 wind chill looks like.

Don’t let the sunshine fool you.

And so the scene is set…

Ahem…

‘Twas the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and one of the last free weekends Husband and I have in December to spend traipsing around our countryside on the hunt for a tree.

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So it didn’t matter that our blood could freeze right there in our veins, or that our eyeballs could turn to ice cubes, our snot into icicles dangling from on our nostrils. It didn’t matter that our very lives were in danger of being taken by Jack Frost himself, we were gonna get my darn tree.

We were gonna put on 37 layers of clothes, load up in the new/old feed pickup,

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turn off of the gravel and onto the dirt/compacted snow/ice trail, drive really slow and discuss our options while looking out the window.

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We were going to spot a couple potential spruce bushes relatively close to one another on the side of the buttes, park the pickup, avoid a puppy-cicle and leave Gus inside, grab the saw from the back, trudge up the hill to the first option

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and mumble into our scarves with our eyes half open (you know, to avoid the whole icicle thing) about the potential of a tree that is a 10-foot tall version of Charlie Brown’s, but has possibilities really, because, well, it’s here and we might freeze to death if we stay out much longer weighing our options.

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But then we’re going to decide to risk it, spot another tree down the hill, walk over to discover it’s the same size as the one in Rockefeller Center and consider the possibility of building an addition to accommodate, because, well, there’s that whole freezing to death thing we’ll still be dealing with before I will turn my face toward the sun to discover one last option blowing in the wind among thorn bushes a quarter mile away.

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So I’ll decide we’ll never feel our legs again anyway and we might very well lose our noses to frostbite, but we might as well assess the bushy little tree, decide it’s not so bad, decide it will work just fine before Husband will stomp down the thorn bushes and start after the trunk with his battery-operated saw with a battery that lasts approximately 3 seconds at a time, you know, apparently death-defying cold applies to power tools too…

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And we are going to finally get the thing down after one big push, drag it to the the pickup a half a mile away,

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decide we might be dying, throw the tree on the flatbed, open the doors, get back inside the pickup, crank up the heat, blow our noses that will be miraculously still attached to our faces, and head back down the road toward home.

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Then we are going to get one mile from home and Husband is going to stop the pickup in the middle of the road, get out, run to the ditch and drag the tree back on the flatbed.

And when we arrive at home, we are going to put the tree in the basement to thaw out, I’m going to say goodbye to Husband who is crazy enough to put on one more layer and sit out in his hunting blind for the rest of the day, then I will pour myself a cup of coffee, consider adding whiskey, make plans for an evening decorating mission, because it will take me a good three to five hours to feel my fingers again and call it a Merry Merry Christmas.

That’s the plan.

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Fa-la-la-la-lahhh-la-la-la-laaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!

Sunday Column: Traditions, heartbeats, one another…

img_9628.jpg When I was about 19 or so I wrote a song called “Heroes Proved.” I was knee deep in college and missing home, missing a slower paced life. Missing college. Missing a time when neighbors came over and sipped on coffee from a big mug and visited long enough to have a couple more refills.

It was a time I was certain all of the yard lights along the pink scoria road where I grew up were going to blink out one by one as stewards of the land grew old and moved to town, with no one in line to move in the old place, because there was nothing for them here.

I couldn’t be convinced then that just eleven years later I would be adding a yard light to the picture, staying up late building a life out here with plenty of prospects. Plenty to do.

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And down the road and up the road, other families, other friends my age or younger are moving into old houses or building roads to new ones, putting up walls where they plan on raising their babies and having friends over for coffee or for a bon fire and drinks late into the night.

It’s a new world. It moved fast in those eleven or so years when I got my first cell phone and used it only for calls back home because it was cheaper than long distance.

I was in college before texting and leaving campus right as Facebook hit the scene. I was a child of a less digital age, an age when you asked your dad instead of Jeeves or Google. The world looked different without YouTube, three thousand channels on television and more information at our fingertips than we had in our parents’ set of 1993 Encycopedias on the shelf.

Now I’m not always nostalgic for a slower pace. In fact, I owe my career out here in the middle of the buttes to the accessibility that technology has allowed. I am able to have virtual coffee with all of you on a whim, share my music and photos from the ranch, get to know you through cyberspace. Write. Submit. Send emails. Get paid.

But some days I want to throw it all in the stock dam and go running wild into the trees, over to my friends’ house to pick chokecherries and make plans for a pie and a neighborhood party. Because a neighborhood party is more important than seventy billion followers on Twitter.

For all the connections we have to one another these days, Skype, Snapchat, Instagram, FaceTime, Facebook and who knows what else, some days I just miss my friends.

And some days I wonder if I’m the only one feeling this way as I use Snapchat, Instagram, FaceTime, Facebook and, *gasp* the telephone, to invite them all over, bring some drinks, bring some noodle salad and sit with us, tell us how you’ve been while we dish up some slush burgers on paper plates and tell stories while we talk with our hands, spill things and laugh about it all.

Because in all the ways we can connect with one another, I like this one the best.

Turns out I’m not the only one. Turns out the art of a good get together has not been lost, and some souls are spending time preserving the oldest traditions. I know this, because we’ve been invited, to sing so they sing along…

Down the road a couple hours a family has fixed up a barn specifically for dancing,

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across the state communities have been celebrating centennials and milestones and summer with gatherings in parks and on the streets,

along the river in the big town a friend hosts a dinner at a farm…

And I sing on a horse drawn wagon…just because…

(Beth from Rhubarb and Venison hosts a dinner at Riverbound Farm near Mandan, ND)

Down my road my neighbor hosts a bonfire, in backyards and garages along neighborhood streets in town, people stop by to chat and have a beer…

In some of these cases social media, texting, Skype and telephone calls were all ways to get them there…in others, it was a whim, a neighbor missing a neighbor, a family hosting supper, an aunt needing to squeeze her niece, sisters needed to catch up, brothers off to site in their rifles or make plans for a bowhunting trip.

This week’s column is about these things we still hold on to, traditions, heartbeats, one another.

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This week’s column is on sipping coffee from a big mug, talking and sticking around long enough for another cup…

Coming Home: Get to know your neighbors and strangers
by Jessie Veeder
8-24-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Jessie’s column, Coming Home,  can be found weekly in newspapers across the state, including the Fargo Forum (Sundays), Grand Forks Herald, Bismarck Tribune and the Dickinson Press.

Sunday Column: On Easter

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In the little Lutheran Church, along a gravel road out in the middle of a cow pasture families filled the pews, back to front, to celebrate Easter. Children were dressed in new outfits, bonnets and vests, ties and frills. They sat next to grandmothers shushing their excited squeals and helped put money in the offering plate.

I stood next to Pops at the front of the church as he played guitar and I sang a song I’ve been singing since I was a little girl. My best friend was baptizing her new baby that day and she asked for a special song.

I hadn’t sung in this little church since I was ten years old.

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The girl who grew up down the road from me, who went to a country school with me,  who traveled to High School Rodeos and could relate to what it meant to be the middle sister, the blonde girl who grew up and moved away, came home for the holiday and she was sitting in the front row with her two little girls.

Behind them, wrangling three young boys in matching flannel shirts, was one of Husband’s best friends.

And then there were the little neighbor girls, all tall and grown up and beautiful. There was their dad, a little more gray in his hair.

There they all were, really, my community gathered on a spring morning that felt like spring. A spring morning that had the birds singing and the baby calves bucking and kicking, the horses basking in the warmth of it all.

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Easter, the pastor said, is a time to start again. The promise of a new season. A second chance.

A resurrection.

It made sense to me then that we would celebrate a baptism on that day, a baptism of a child that is hope and prayers answered personified.

It made sense that we passed two new baby calves, still wet out of the womb, on the road on the way to the church.

It made sense then that we were granted some sunshine and a place to gather with family and friends we’ve known all of our lives. So many they had to bring out the folding chairs.

So many familiar faces, growing up and growing old and still sticking with this place.

Still coming back to the broken up fields and this old church.

And I remember when I was the girl in the Easter hat, a little girl standing up before the congregation with my hands behind my back and singing out.

I remember what it was like when my legs didn’t touch the floor, but dangled there off of the hard pew, kicking and wiggling with excitement about the fun waiting for me and my cousins when the sermon wrapped up and the clusters of adults lost in conversation and laughter and church basement coffee had broken up and disassembled to their respective homesteads where they would conduct their own Easter traditions.

Ours was the annual Easter Egg Hunt, one that took us across dangerous barbed wire fences, in the dark depths of the old barn and the grain bins, to the top of muddy gumbo hills where the crocuses were working on blooming, and then down again to get stuck in that mud, tear our Easter dresses and count and sort our candy on carpet of our gramma’s tiny living room.

These were our traditions out here, out here by the red barn when we were all together and young, without a care in the world, no worries about time and what we could lose, who we could lose between all the Easter sunrises and sunsets.

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It’s been almost 20 years since our last Veeder Ranch egg hunt, almost 20 years since we continued the tradition a little further south to my aunt and uncle’s farmstead with the white barn and the neat corrals.

And then there was a space there where we found we were, all at the same time, too old and too young for egg hunts.

But time is a funny and magical thing. If you wait long enough it will turn those kids in Easter bonnets into mothers and fathers of children whose legs dangle off church pews in anticipation…and we are the ones who go “shush, child. Shhhh now…”

We turn into the Easter Bunny…

And all old things are new again…

On Easter.

Coming Home: Childhood Easter egg hunts helped us find more than candy
by Jessie Veeder
4-20-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Sunday Column: Oh Christmas Tree, spindly Christmas Tree

Husband and I don’t have many traditions. Unless you count paddlefishing in May, sending him off to pheasant hunt in October and sometimes remembering our own anniversary enough in advance to buy a bottle of Champaign, I would call us sort of go with the flow type people.

Unless it comes to Christmas. We have traditions at Christmas. We eat pancakes and prime rib. I dip pretzels in chocolate and make a holiday shaped cheese ball.  I dress the pug in a Santa suit.  And we cut our own Christmas tree.

That Christmas tree thing, that’s my favorite one.

And since we moved back to the ranch we have held true to it being a magical sort of process, one that starts with a dreamy vision of the perfect cedar waiting lonely in the coulees of our favorite pasture in the sparkling snow and ends with us laughing and smiling under its boughs covered in twinkling glitter and lights.

And that’s how we remember it no matter the snow drifts, the chill or the one time when we got stuck miles from home and big brown dog puked in the pickup.

We remember it that way because our hunts usually end with a great tree. A tree that spoke to us under a beam of light. One that whispered “pick me, pick me” as we slowly walked toward its light shining down from the prairie sky. One that reached out its arms and asked to be ours, filled our house with the scent of holiday and became the backdrop to many nearly perfect Christmases spent on the ranch.

That didn’t happen this year.

No.

This year we had one day. One hour on one frickin’ freezing Sunday before the sun went down to head out into the -25 degree sunset and find our Christmas centerpiece.

Because in the middle of a life that we seem to insist on overbooking, Christmas seemed to have snuck up and bit us in the ass.

So we had no plan. We had no direction. We just had our coveralls, a saw, each other and one mission.

To fulfill our Christmas tradition.

And what we brought home isn’t pretty.

No, not really.

It’s sort of twisted and it leans and turns to the left. The branches are spindly, they gap and sag and have grown so accustomed to the relentless prairie wind that they have yet to relax so that while it is perfectly calm in the little house we’ve built, that tree, safe and sound under our roof, seems to make us believe that the wind is still blowing.

But you know what else it makes me believe? That Charley Brown, Grinchy little cedar covered in bulb and lights?

That it doesn’t matter.

That it’s sort of perfect for us, really.  Perfect for us and this year we’ve spent muddling through plans that just don’t quite turn out right.  Perfect for a man who falls of ladders and a woman who falls of ledges into snow banks in the middle of Main Street.

Perfect for a couple that doesn’t make time to keep up with the laundry or the dishes and spends way to much time eating noodles and not enough time doing sit-ups.

So when I reached for the 175th Christmas bulb, that carbohydrate loving, overly ambitious carpenter husband of mine told me to stop.

No more bulbs.

The tree is good.

The tree is his favorite.

Because it’s like us.

Just happy to be here and trying its best.

Coming Home: A perfect Christmas includes plenty of imperfections
12/20/13
By Jessie Veeder
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com