“Prairie Princess” Children’s Book Release

Ten years ago, I wrote a little poem that asked a young girl to show us around her home on the ranch.

I had just moved back to my family’s ranch in western North Dakota and was living in my grandma’s tiny brown house in the barnyard with my husband. The task I gave myself was to do all the things I used to do as a kid on this place: pick handfuls of wildflowers, ride our horses, take long walks up and down the creek, help work cows, eat Popsicles on the deck, linger outside doing nothing as much as possible and, of course, slide down a gumbo hill in the rain (which turned out to only be a good idea because it made a good story and I didn’t die…).

During that time, I was in a state of transition having just quit a full-time fundraising job and left town with my dogs and my husband for home on the ranch. I wasn’t positive I made the right decision, but then I hadn’t really been positive about much for those first seven or so years of my 20s.

What am I doing back here? What should I be doing back here? Should I take another desk job? Should I hit the road again or switch my career path entirely?

Should we try again for a baby? Should we give up? How is a grown-up supposed to behave?

I had no answers. All I knew is that it felt good to be in that little house trying to make something out of all those chokecherries I just picked. And it felt good to be on the back of a horse trailing cattle to a new pasture with my dad and husband.

It felt good to take the time to throw sticks in the creek and watch them float with the direction of the little stream. And then I sometimes wished that I were that stick, letting the current take me where it will. Or maybe the house cat, the one that used to be the kitten we rescued from the barn, growing up with no concerns except about being a cat. If only being human was that simple.

But we make it complicated, and so I found that channeling the 8-year-old version of myself helped balance me a bit. I spent so much of that summer writing it all down.

That’s how “Prairie Princess” was born. Because I wanted that little girl to show me around this place, to tell me the way she sees it — catching snowflakes on her tongue, helping with chores, dancing along the ridgeline and singing at the top of her lungs. Just like I used to.

I tucked that poem away then, but kept it in the back of my mind as I found my direction and became a mother to two little girls who looked exactly like the Prairie Princess I envisioned in that poem.

And so, 10 years later, I decided it was time to make that poem come to life in the form of a children’s book, so the voice of that little girl could help other kids see the special connection and responsibility we have to the land.

I took photos of my own little girls on the ranch and used them as inspiration for the artist who so beautifully painted it. Daphne Johnson Clark is a friend of mine with rural roots here in Western North Dakota and she made the book come to life.

And now it’s here, after all these years.

To celebrate, I am visiting libraries, museums and other venues across the state to read the book, talk about sense of place and conduct a creative workshop that encourages kids to express themselves through art and poetry. And I hope I will see you out there.

Even if you don’t have a child to bring with you, I believe this story will help you remember what it was like when the world felt wide open and magical and all for you.

I hope you know it still is…

Click here to order a signed copy of Prairie Princess and other music and merchandise

Click here for the KFYR-TV News Interview about Prairie Princess (with a few words from the kids)

Click here for the KX-TV News Interview about the book

We’re all our own Christmas DJs

We’re all our own Christmas DJs
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This morning I played the DJ for two little girls sitting in car seats in the back of my SUV covered in a nice layer of dust and then ice and then snow and another sprinkle of dirt.

As the sun rose slowly over the horizon, turning the sky from navy to blue to gold to pink, my girls sang along to the Christmas version of our life’s playlist. Their little snowboots keeping time with the beat and their heads bobbing as they watched the electrical poles, black cows and pumping units zoom past on the other side of frosty windows.

“Play ‘Jingle Bells’ next!”

“O Christmas Tree!”

“Now ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!’” I obliged each request, the world of music, every song we can think of, now at our fingertips these days. All you have to do is call it out. And I sang along too, running and rerunning my holiday and end-of-year to-do list through my head to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

It was only four more days until Christmas! We knew because the elf in the taco shell in the messy pantry told us. A few weeks ago, that elf was more cleverly placed — in a Barbie boat floating in the kitchen sink, on the Christmas tree, dangling from the wreath, then the chandelier, then holding baby Jesus in the nativity scene. By now, it seems she’s running out of ideas…

We’re right smack in the middle of the season of tradition, and some of those traditions sent me to the grocery store 37 times a week and I still forgot the key ingredient to the fudge recipe. So I called over to Mom’s because she’s the official Queen of Christmas. She is stocked and ready and has had the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and the Kathy Mattea Christmas albums on repeat while she decks her halls for our family gathering on Christmas morning. So of course she had three cans of evaporated milk. And no, she didn’t need me to replace them. She just has extra.

That’s how you do the holidays in the middle of nowhere. You buy extra. One day I’ll learn.

But contrary to popular belief, Christmas comes even if you don’t get your fudge made, cut, packaged and distributed to every person who has ever crossed your path. And if that elf never moves from that shelf, or even shows up at all, it’s fine. Really.

After a challenging year where day to day I didn’t know if I would feel bad or worse, I decided, this Christmas, I’m trying really hard to be here for whatever it is. If making the fudge brings me joy, I make the fudge. If I drop the whole pan on the kitchen floor and don’t have the energy to start another batch, well, that’s that. It’s good enough. If I don’t have the energy for it, I’m going to sit it out. If I do, well, then bring it on. Bring it all on. Let’s not forget that we’re our own Christmas DJs here…

Because these are indeed the days. I have a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old in the house and that’s pretty much all the magic I need. And I want to be here, fully present for all its layers — sprinkles on top of dust on top of scattered toys and excited squeals and all of the ways my girls mispronounce the lyrics in every verse of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” at the top of their sweet little lungs as time ticks on with the rhythm of those electrical poles whizzing by on the other side of their frosty windows…

Correction: In my Dec. 4 column, I shared a recipe for my mom’s fudge. The evaporated milk ingredient should have been a 12-ounce can, not an 8-ounce can. I sincerely apologize for all the kitchen cussing this error may have caused. I owe you all a batch. I’ll get to it. Until then, merry merry Christmas from the ranch!

The glamour and the timing on a family ranch

“Heya! Can you go close the gate below the barn?” I yelled at my little sister on the other side of the cattle pens. I had a pencil in one mittened hand, a list of numbers in the other, and a sorting stick stuck under my arm. My going-to town-boots had kicked up a fair amount of mud and poop and slushy snow and deposited it right inside of my socks and up the back of my going-to-town-pants as I chased both man and bouvine around the corrals. I had been caught in the wrong outfit as I pulled back into the ranch that morning, bringing two little girls home from preschool.

This wasn’t the timing I was expecting, but there I was…

My little sister was sitting, one butt cheek in the side-by-side and one leg out the door, hanging on to her thirty-pound toddler while her dog bounced and begged to come in and those two little preschoolers sat beside her, one singing an original song about cows at the top of her lungs and the other holding her ears. Take a guess which one was mine…

My poor sister was caught in a “Here, hold my kid, the guys need help,” situation and just like that she was responsible for her children, a niece and a gate.

This wasn’t the timing she was expecting, but there she was…

“Which gate?” she hollered back.

“The brown gate below the barn!” both Dad and my husband chimed in, as if adding the color of the gate was going to be helpful to a woman who had all limbs occupied, forty-seven tabs open in her brain and couldn’t get the music to stop.

But she needed to hurry, we had a couple loads of cows to haul for the sale the next day and the rest of them were quickly headed to that spot where the fence had been down for repair the last few weeks. Should have thought of that earlier probably, but, as you are learning, that’s not necessarily the way we do things around here.

Oh, life on the family ranch—the only thing glamorous about it that day was the cute new sunglasses I was wearing and my good fall coat that wasn’t expecting to work so hard. But that’s the way it goes on a small operation, raising kids and careers and cattle, you must be prepared, at anytime, to step in poop and be fine with it.

Or to open or close a gate, which depending on the status of your fences can determine how the entire rest of your day goes.

And there are plenty of misconceptions about what it means to be a cattle rancher, the one I didn’t pay any attention to growing up was the amount of deadlines and dates you have to pay attention to in order to calve at the right time, sell at the right time and have enough feed and water along the way. And so that explains why it seems we’re always in a bit of a rush. Because on the ranch, if you think it’s going to take a couple hours, it almost always takes a couple more.

And if you think you fixed it, 98% of the time you return to find you only thought you did.

Anyway, little sister got the gate shut and we got the cows loaded and sent the guys on to the highway to get to Dickinson before dark. Because dark is the ultimate deadline and it comes early around here these days.  Once they left, my little sister and I took the kids into my house for snacks and whatever crafting project they could scrounge up while I ate a three o’clock lunch of handfuls of Wheat Thins and debated the best ways to get mud and cow poop off wool and leather.

It seemed we pulled it all together then as I cooked up some spaghetti and got the kids fed and bathed and ready for bed on schedule, feeling pretty good about nailing all categories of our life today.

Until my husband walked in the door and told me they arrived to the sale barn to find out there was no sale the next day…

And that’s not the timing they expected but there they were….

On Charity and showing our kids they are loved

Charity and showing our children they are loved
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The other day, Edie declared she was going to give one of her dolls to charity.

“Who’s Charity?” Rosie asked, confused as to why anyone would think to give a doll away, even if you have another just like it in your room. According to a 4-year-old, you can never have too many.

“Charity is for kids who don’t have toys. Rosie, there are some kids who don’t have toys!” Edie explained to her little sister who didn’t seem convinced of the plan.

And she put the doll in a leftover Happy Birthday gift bag and vowed to look through her things to find more toys to add to it.

Charity. I tried to explain the concept to them last year, when they were freshly 3 and 5. I took them through the house on a deep clean, going through toy boxes and drawers, under beds and in the basement, pulling out misplaced blocks and tiny jewelry and naked dolls with tangled hair and making piles for trash and piles for giveaway.

Which, of course, resulted in my two girls rediscovering stuffed animals and games they hadn’t snuggled or played with in a year and falling back in love. And so I had to resort to the covert operation of sneaking things into boxes and out to the car while they were asleep or at school.

They have too much stuff and I hate it. What a very privileged thing to say.

“Eat your supper please, don’t you know there are kids who don’t have enough to eat?!” Which is a very mom thing to say. And sadly, true. I only wish making my kids eat the last few bites of broccoli was going to change anything for the kids who need and deserve so much more in this life.

To raise my children with a grasp of gratitude and compassion is something that keeps me up at night. How lucky are we that this can be one of my main concerns? Because we have the means to keep our children clothed and fed and, additionally, celebrating birthday parties with friends, decorated in their favorite colors, serving their favorite foods. Which makes it hard for their little brains to get a grasp on a perspective. Isn’t every kid’s life like this?

And so I took an ornament off the giving tree last night after Edie’s kindergarten Christmas concert. She stood up there on that stage in a fresh new outfit, black tights and new red, sparkly shoes that we had to get in a size larger because she’s stretching and growing out and into so many things these days. Shoes are just one of them.

On our way home, Edie asked me what the ornament said.

“Girl. Age 6. Special requests: gloves, winter gear,” I replied. “We’re going to have to go shopping. Will you girls help me? I figured you would know just what she might like.”

Edie wanted to know what her name was. Rosie wanted to know how we were going to get her the toys if we didn’t know where she lived. How will she know it was from us?

How do you explain that it doesn’t matter? We don’t need credit. We don’t need to know her. We just want her to have a good Christmas. How do you explain what real need is to two small children who have everything they could want?

How do we give them what they need, but also make them understand what it means to work for it? How do we give them a charmed childhood and keep them grateful? How do we make them feel special, but keep them humble?

My daughters are coming to the age where they are becoming aware of the world around them, of the kids who have more and those who have less. How do we teach them to treat each with kindness and respect? How do we teach them to only compare in the way in which it makes them feel grateful, generous and compassionate?

When my little sister was a kid, she was out doing chores with Dad and asked him, “Are we poor?” My dad was taken aback a bit, wondering where this question was coming from. Turns out she noticed that we didn’t have a four-wheeler or a new pickup, a boat or bigger house like some of her friends.

“Would all of that make you happier?” he asked her. She thought probably no, but she was aware. And she was wondering.

If only we knew for certain that every child in this community was held safe and armed with what they needed to stand up against the tough elements of weather and life. If I could give the gift of reassurance and wrap it up in that box with the hat and gloves and Barbie doll, I would do it. If I could make my kids understand that in the long run, they won’t remember how many gifts were under the tree, but for a child who has none, well, that’s something that sticks with them.

And we can’t do so much about any of it, but we can do something. And so we did something.

What we don’t know…

I don’t know what it says about me and my culinary skills, but every year at Thanksgiving, the only thing that anybody wants from my kitchen is a giant cheeseball in the shape of a turkey.

By the time you read this, it has already been constructed, admired and devoured, carrot nose, pretzel feet, cracker fan and its little Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup top hat all slumped and scattered to the side of the decorative plate, joining the leftover beets in the relish tray as the thing no one really wants to eat, but makes the table setting more festive.

Oh, Thanksgiving. So much of the holiday for me represents coming home. Maybe even more than Christmas, and maybe more so because on a Thanksgiving six years ago we spent our first night in our house as parents to a brand-new bald-headed baby and nothing has been the same since.

Especially the holidays.

Our Thanksgiving meal that afternoon was drive-thru Burger King with a frozen Stouffer’s lasagna for supper as we sat in the living room recliners staring at this new wrinkly human who would grow up to become the young girl who requested rainbow cupcakes for her kindergarten class this morning and questioned if I was following the rules when I helped her walk the treats into the classroom.

“I don’t know, Mom,” she said nervously as I pulled into the parking lot instead of the drop-off line like every morning before. “I don’t think we’re supposed to be doing this. I’m just not used to it.”

Not used to it. What a way to describe it. I’m not used to it either, girl. Just yesterday, you and I walked the planet essentially attached to one another. Now you’re 6 and questioning my parenting judgment and authority.

And I’m not sure I’m used to my almost 4-year-old spouting off facts about reptiles behind the driver’s seat on our way to school. When we brought these little bundles of baby home to the ranch, I didn’t know I would blink and they would already know more than me. Like preschool is just the threshold. I’ve already been confused by kindergarten math homework and she’s 3 spelling words and the discovery of voice commands away from being able to Google everything.

I thought my motherhood expert status had more of a shelf life. I mean, up until this year I still believed some of the B.S. parent answers my dad had for our incessant questions. I mean, he always sounded so confident. But back then, we were living in a land of encyclopedias and experience-it-for-yourself. He was golden as long as we didn’t ask for confirmation from Mom.

These days, these kids literally have the world at their fingertips. A few weeks ago I was teaching a writing workshop for high school kids in a neighboring town. I watched them work to complete the short writing prompt I gave them and wondered if I really had anything that might be useful to them at the end of the day.

Then it occurred to me that when I was their age, sitting at a desk in my senior English class, there was no way to anticipate that 10, 20 years later so many careers and tools of our everyday existence would be founded in technology that we could have only dreamed of in our Jetson cartoon fantasies.

Like, artificial intelligence is real, and video chat is a thing that my kids will never not know. And so is travel to Mars, for like, normal millionaires, not just astronauts.

And black holes. I mean, we have an actual picture now. Don’t even get me started on things like Spanx and eyelash extensions and dry shampoo…

Anyway, after a few minutes going down the rabbit hole, I decided to tell those students the one thing that I do know: You just really don’t know what’s to come. But you do know your heart. And what and who you love. Pair that with the mission to do the best that you can, and then when it doesn’t work out (because so many times it doesn’t work out) and when it finally does, you’ll know you put the best of you out into this ever-shrinking universe.

And if you need a recipe to take to a holiday party, a themed cheeseball never disappoints. Just text me and I’ll give you a recipe. Or better yet, we can do it together over FaceTime.

We spent the weekend decking the halls at the ranch and now I’m in the spirit! Shop https://jessieveedermusic.com/store for great prairie-inspired gifts.

Use code HOLIDAY for 20% off now until Friday! Happy Shopping!

The bull’s-eye kind of woman

The year our first daughter was born, my husband bought me a bow. I’d been talking about how I wanted to get into archery for a few years, thinking it would be a fun skill to try to master, something the two of us could do together and another good excuse for me to get out into the hills.

I could have taken the initiative myself, of course, done the research and made the purchase, but I was intimidated by it all and so I just kept doing the things I knew how to do as I settled further into adulthood.

And then new motherhood hit me like a freight train and suddenly everything I thought I knew about myself, the planet and existing on it, was turned upside down.

Forget learning a new skill. Forget self-improvement. Forget quality time with the husband. Forget recreation. I just wanted time to take a full, uninterrupted shower and maybe eat a meal while it was still warm.

And so there the bow sat, in the closet of the spare basement bedroom, for close to six years. Six years. That’s how old our daughter will be in a few days.

And in that time, so much has happened. We almost lost my dad, wrote a book, welcomed baby Rosie, home-improved, built and rebuilt, broke and fixed, fed cows and kids, celebrated milestones, made a thousand messes and cleared them up, lost a job, started a new business, recorded an album, got cut right down the middle, kicked cancer, made some new plans and endured an endless worldwide pandemic.

All those things we did and all the new lessons we learned, yet still the bow sat, in the basement, a little reminder of the type of woman I could be someday, when the dust settles maybe. The type of woman who can drive an arrow right through the bull’s-eye of a target. That woman, dressed in camo and confident, sounds like she has control over things.

Bet her kids listen to her the first time when she tells them to brush their teeth. Bet she doesn’t do her makeup in the car’s rearview mirror in the parking lot after she drops her kids off at school because in the car, alone, is one of the only places she can focus fully on her eyeliner. Bet her meals are planned and she can walk around barefoot in her house without collecting a decent amount of dirt, glitter and a dead fly or two.

That woman wouldn’t have left that bow in the basement for six years waiting on her to do something she said she wanted to do.

Anyway, I’m thinking of this now because a few weeks ago, my husband brought home two little bow and arrow sets for our daughters. I watched them squeal with excitement at the idea that they were going to do something that puts them in the same world as their dad. Because at almost 6 and almost 4, they still want to be like us.

So I followed them outside and watched my husband kneel down next to them, coaching them through the safe ways to handle the bow, helping them pull it back and easing them into a couple target hits that sent them bouncing with joy and asking for, please, one more time. I clapped and encouraged, yelled “Good job!” and watched them work on getting the hang of it in repetition.

And as much as they wanted to be like their daddy, I found that I wanted to be just like them. So fresh and confident with a whole life in front of them to discover what they love, to learn, to explore, to become experts at things. At almost 6 and almost 4, every single minute these girls are learning something new about their world, and about themselves.

At 38, I wonder now, when was the last time I worked hard to learn something completely new? My daughters reminded me that there’s no better feeling really, when something finally clicks and you go from not knowing to knowing. It’s incredible. It shouldn’t be reserved solely for the young.

A few weeks ago, my husband dug that bow out of the basement for me. He tuned it up and called me out to see if I could pull it back. Turns out the whole splitting your chest open thing wreaks havoc on the exact muscles needed to become that woman who can shoot an arrow through a bull’s-eye.

So, for now, I’ll be the woman in my bedroom lifting weights and getting stronger and finding her way no longer as a mother of babies, but of two growing girls who could benefit, I think, from watching their momma grow, too.

Homemade Halloween

Happy Day after Halloween everyone! How’s your blood sugar level? I’m feeling the need to check in on you all after a Halloween that lasted three whole days. Are you upright? Did the kids make it?

This week’s column is a reflection on my Homemade Halloweens, and this year we carried on the tradition successfully, although I was a little nervous when I wrote the column that my five-year-old was going to reject the homemade and head toward her rack of princess dresses. But alas, she proved that she has a soft and gooey center and dressed up as Bluey, the star of her little sister’s favorite show, making Rosie’s dreams come true and her momma proud and thankful that I didn’t get out the glue gun for nothing.

So here’s the thing about having Halloween officially land on a Sunday–not only does it make for a three day celebration, it means that I had a whole day and a half to thoroughly obsess over my Trunk-or-Treat display. Because when I was a kid, Trunk-or-Treat didn’t exist. But oh, it exists now and I. Am. Here. For. It.

So the girls and I spent Saturday night and Sunday morning turning the back of my car into a campsite. We painted signs and mountains, brought up the sleeping bags and Teepee and old time lantern, took out the fishing poles, gathered sticks and cut up paper to make a fake fire and fully and completely destroyed our kitchen in the process. And then we loaded it all up to head down the road to figure out how to coordinate our Bluey Family costumes with our winter gear. Because weather’s never really stopped North Dakotan’s from doing our best to celebrate something. And so we celebrated, in 70-some degree weather on Friday on Main Street and 30-some degree weather on Sunday handing out candy from my lawn chair and “fishing hole.” the fishing hole.

The girls and I went all out on our Trunk or Treat Theme this year. My kitchen is covered in paint and crafting supplies, and I had to take a half-hour shower to thaw out from sitting in 30-some degree weather handing out the chocolate, but it was worth it.

I hope you all enjoyed this fun holiday the way you prefer to enjoy it–eating all the candy, entering the costume contest, playing tricks on the neighborhood kids, or shutting the lights off and hiding out–because if there was ever a holiday that screams “you do you” it’s All Hallow’s Eve.

Ok, here’s this week’s column.

Another Homemade Halloween

If you don’t watch Bluey with your kids, you should. An adorable Aussie show featuring a family of Heelers. They have two little girls, Blue and Bingo, and two little girl cousins, Muffin and Socks, and I feel like it’s our life on the ranch as a cartoon.

By the time you read this, I will have successfully consumed all of the chewy SweeTarts, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Milk Duds I purchased for Halloween, proving yet again that I can’t be trusted to buy any candy early, unless I somehow hide it from myself, which would mean I won’t find it until they clean my house to move me into the nursing home.

By the time you read this, I will have hot-glued some felt to a couple bright sweatshirts (and added puffy paint just for fun) in an attempt to create a costume you can’t find in stores, only to learn that my oldest would now rather be Elena, Princess of Avalor than Bluey, a cartoon blue heeler puppy made out of a hoodie.

I’m not sure I have enough hot glue sticks, felt or glitter in the house to construct a full-on ballgown, not that I won’t try. Edie’s too young to understand that I will, indeed, try.

Because her father and I come from a long line of “make your own costume” people. Walmart wasn’t just down the street, you know. Oh, and money didn’t grow on trees then either. And uphill both ways, and all that stuff that will send my daughters’ eyeballs rolling.

Anyway, did anyone else’s mom stuff you in one of those pumpkin leaf bags, paint your face green and call it a costume? How about a princess in one of her old bridesmaid’s dresses with a pipe cleaner crown? No.

Halloween in the early 90s. My little sister as a garbage bag pumpkin and me as an old lady in my grandma’s dress.

Well, then there was always the one clown suit our grandma made that we could get from the cousins down in South Dakota who wore it last year, trying to decide if it’s best to wear the snowsuit over or under the baggy striped and polka-dotted jumper. Then we all crammed in the neighbors’ pickup with the tiny seat in the back and covered the 15-mile radius from neighbor to neighbor to neighbor, stripping off our beanies, coats, mittens and snowpants to reveal our characters and sit and have a cup of hot chocolate or a cookie before heading to the next house.

Trying to incorporate my broken leg into my costume

I was a full-blown adult before I ever dressed in a store-bought costume — I was a deviled egg, and I borrowed it from my little sister. We still have it if you want to borrow it, too, along with some wigs, a couple witch hats and a child’s flamingo costume we acquired along the way.

Me and my husband, as full grown adults…in homemade costumes…

We love Halloween around here, but it’s such a different time. Since my oldest daughter was born, we’ve collected enough princess, mermaid, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, cheerleader and ballerina costumes, complete with the plastic high heels, crowns and capes to play dress-up or trick or treat every day for a month.

But when Halloween comes knocking on our door, I get that old familiar urge to construct something. One year, I hot-glued hundreds of colorful puffballs on a beanie and made 11-month-old Edie into a gumball machine.

The next year I ordered as much harvest-colored tulle I could find and spent two days making a giant tutu for a cute little scarecrow and my daughter took one look at it and cried. Apparently it wasn’t pink and sparkly enough for the 2-year-old.

Recycling the idea on Rosie a few years later

But that didn’t stop me from whipping out that glue gun the next year to create an epic mermaid crown out of old costume necklaces and beach shells and turning a little sweat suit into a flounder fish for baby Rosie. Because I have to glue while I can! I knew that the days of my daughters appreciating my homemade efforts were going to be short-lived.

I didn’t know that the timeline would be so short. Apparently almost 6 is when your daughter turns to you out of the blue and asks you, very frankly, to not embarrass her.

And I’m not sure what qualifies as embarrassing to a 6-year-old, but apparently I’ve done it. A few times actually.

If you need me, I’ll be drowning my sorrows in Reese’s and bedazzling something.

Fall work and the promise of rain

On Saturday, it rained.

It rained and it soaked the earth and it made mud puddles and the kids splashed in them and we all pressed our noses against the screens and windows and held our breath. Hoping it would last.

My dad was in another town, and so I expected a call or a text, wondering how much rain we had so far. I didn’t realize it until this very dry year, when the man called me every time it rained, to see how much we got. Because I have a rain gauge. And he doesn’t.

Never has.

Isn’t that crazy? A rancher in North Dakota without a rain gauge! It’s even crazier when I tell you why. Why?!

Because he’s superstitious. He figures if he buys one, it will never rain again. Kinda like the old “buy a snow blower and it won’t snow” thing.

So he’ll call his brother who’s 3 miles down the road in the summer with a big ol’ rain gauge nailed to a fence post. And then he’ll call me, who’s closer by 2 miles and has a butterfly gauge stuck in my flower pot, flapping in the breeze, and then he’ll compare the two and calculate if he can breathe a sigh of relief or keep worrying.

It seems this inch of rain let him breathe a bit. And I think he needs to thank my husband for the wet forecast, because he started a deck project with a deadline a few days ago, which pretty much guarantees a weather delay.

But we’ll take it, just like we took the rain on Saturday with homemade tomato soup cooking on the stove and a plan to work calves the next morning in the mud, up on a horse as soon as the sun broke over the horizon. We put on layers, long johns and jeans and chaps and sweatshirts and neckerchiefs, gloves and earflap caps.

We could see our breath against the morning light. And as that sun burned the chill off our cheeks and the bare branches of trees that had given up their leaves, we pushed lazy cattle from one pasture, across the cover crop and into the corrals where we sorted and checked and counted and stripped off those carefully plotted layers the way North Dakotans do in the transition of seasons.

This kind of fall work takes a village, and we have a good little group. Two young cowboys from down the road show up with horses, one of our best friends from high school who wouldn’t miss the chance to ride these hills, and my husband and my dad and me. And my little sister, who brings the kids to watch and climb on fences and old haying equipment and helps her tiny daughter push calves through with the pink sorting stick.

And my mom who puts the soup on, makes the Scotcharoos and lays the sandwiches out for the crew so I can stay to help in the corrals a bit longer. Nothing tastes better than warm lunch after work like this. And I like having them all in the house to feed them as a thank you for the help.

This kind of work is good for the soul I think. Hands busy, heart pumping, air in your lungs. It’s precisely why people remain in this lifestyle no matter the practicality of it really.

Despite the lack of vacation days and stability. It’s because the back of a horse in the hills becomes your office space and your church and your therapy and your living and your family and your friendships and it’s all wrapped up out here in the least complicated way so that even when it’s hard, it is worth it.

It’s almost always hard.

But then, if you’re patient enough with the promise, it will rain…

Why I’m moving to the suburbs

And now a true story about what it’s like being me trying to be a ranch hand and a housewife and why I may need to start shopping for khakis and a house in the suburbs.

The scene: Going with my dad on a ride to gather cows. We are in a hurry because every day it gets darker a little earlier. It was 7:30. It gets dark at 8:30… or something like that.

And now me explaining myself: I’ve never been able to keep up with my dad on a horse, and I’m afraid no matter how much help I think I am, I’m quite certain he would be better off without me.

I mean, I could be riding a racehorse. You know, one of those fast buggers that wins the races that racehorses win. It could have countless trophies, made jockeys famous and fans from around the world could be chanting his name. And that horse would take one look at me and decide that running isn’t his thing today.

And neither is trotting for that matter.

Nope. Not until we’re pointing toward the barn anyway. Or cutting a path through the thick trees. Yeah, in the trees he’d find a quick pace.

But Dad? Dad could ride a horse that was halfway to the light at the end of the tunnel and that horse would turn right around to give him his last breath.

So this is what I deal with when we’re in a hurry: Kicking and pushing and working to find a pace on a lazy horse to keep up with Dad as he heads toward the trees, providing me with directions that I cannot hear because he is facing the hills and I am three horse lengths behind him.

I yell, “What?”

And he says something about following a cow through the trail in the trees.

So I do.

Only there isn’t a trail.

So me and my suddenly lightning-fast horse make our own trail through the brush so thick that I lose sight of the cow I’m supposed to be following (and all forms of life and light for that matter).

I hear Dad hollering from what seems like 20 miles away and wonder how he got that far in what I thought has only been 30 seconds (I’m not sure though because I lose all sense of time because I’m focusing on trying to keep both my eyeballs as we duck and weave and through the thick brush).

“Jessss!!!” Dad’s voice echoes through the trees. “Wheeereee youuuuu attt?”

“Uhhhh…” I spit the leaves from my mouth. “Just, uh, cutting a trail here…”

…and bringing with me some souvenirs: sticks in my shirt, leaves down my pants, acorns in my pockets and twigs jammed nicely in the puffs of my ponytail as I emerge on the other side of the brush alone and searching for any sign of the cow I was supposed to keep an eye on.

Ah, never mind, looks like Dad has her through the gate.

I cuss.

I kick my horse to catch up while I work on ridding myself of the vegetation I acquired on my “Blair Witch” journey through the coulee.

I catch up just in time to follow him to the top of a hill, down through another coulee, along the road and into the barnyard where we load up the horses and I wait to make sure Dad’s tractor starts so he can get home and get a bale of hay.

It does not start.

So I drive him and the horses home.

Slowly.

Because I have precious cargo.

And because apparently I like to torture this man who is trying to beat the sun.

And the other man in my life, the one I married, was still at work when I got in from “helping.” So I decided to make him a casserole, only to be asked, three bites into his meal, what I put in this thing.

“Cheese, noodles, hamburger… the regular… why?”

He gets up from his chair, pulls something from his mouth, looks and me and says:

“Because I just bit into a stick.”

If you know of any nice places in the suburbs, give me a call. I’ll be shopping for khakis and looking for a new job.

Blue Buttes and the backdrop of childhood

There are sets of buttes that frame the landscape of our ranch. When you’re turning off the highway and coming down toward home, or when you find yourself on the top of a hill, searching for cows, or the dogs, or the other riders who are supposed to be with you, if you look north, as far as the eye can see, there they stand — the Blue Buttes — the backdrop to this little painting we live in here at the Veeder Ranch.

Every time I look at them, I’m reminded of a story that my dad told me about a drawing he colored of a cowboy on a mountain during a project in elementary school. He used his crayons to make the man’s hat brown, his shirt yellow, the sky blue and the mountain he was riding along purple.

When the teacher asked, “Why did you paint the mountain purple? Mountains aren’t purple!” my young dad said he felt embarrassed and confused. He didn’t think he was wrong. The only encounter he had up to that point with anything resembling a mountain was the Blue Buttes that waved to him from about 7 miles north. And they sure looked purple to him.

Oh my heart.

This week my oldest daughter, Edie, will start her first day of kindergarten. It’s a milestone she’s more than ready for, but I can’t stop kissing her cheeks and looking at her wondering how this happened. Wasn’t I just measuring her milestones in weeks and months? And now here we are staring down an entirely new chapter and all I can do is reminisce with her about how I used to rock her to sleep every night by pacing the floor.

Oh, I’m not ready. Like, in denial, putting off school shopping, not ready.

Recently we took Edie to the big hospital to get her tonsils taken out and while they were in there, they took her wiggly front tooth, too. (A fun surprise for all of us when she came off of anesthesia.) So if she didn’t look like a kindergartener before, she certainly does now.

So very soon, off she’ll go into a world that, day after day, will teach her things, so many things, she didn’t know before. Like, maybe, that the Blue Buttes aren’t actually blue or purple. And that 5+5 is 10 and 10X10 is 100 and then maybe the lines in a Shakespeare play and the periodic table and, too soon, that the Tooth Fairy is actually her mother, scrounging up cash, writing notes and sneaking into her room at night.

Right now my daughter is full of magic and innocence, collecting toads with her little sister in her ballet costume, drawing flowers with faces, playing dolls, hoarding special rocks, pumping her legs on the swing and believing that maybe unicorns exist somewhere. She’s also arguing with me about brushing her hair, choosing outfits that don’t match but make her “feel like herself,” and reminding me that every day of parenthood, if you’re doing it right, is a day closer to letting them go where they need to go.

But for now I’m soaking in the fact that, for now, where my girls need to go is outside to see if we can find some more toads. And can they please wear their princess dresses and bring their dolls in their strollers?

And then after that they might find themselves in the trees, following the secret path up to the top of the hill to check on the sunflowers, the wind tangling up their already messy hair. And if they look north, as far as the eye can see, they will find those buttes, purple and blue as can be, the backdrop of their childhood that I hope will never lose its magic, even in memory…