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…

Happiness is a wild plum patch

Happiness is a wild plum patch
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Western North Dakota grows wild plums. In the patches of brush where the poison ivy sneaks and the cows go to get away from the flies. They start as blossoms on the thorny branches and, under the hot sun, turn from green in early July to red to a dark purple bite-sized berry just waiting to be picked in the beginning of autumn.

Wild plums mean summer is almost over. They mean roundup is on its way. They mean sucking on pits and spitting them at your little sister. They mean scratches from branches on a detour for a snack on the way to get the bull out of the trees. They mean Dad’s stories of Grampa sitting at the table in the winter dipping into a jar of canned wild plums, drenching them in cream and stacking the pits neatly on the table.

They mean memories of Grandma’s jelly on peanut butter toast.

They mean reassurance that sweet things can grow in brutal conditions, a reminder we all need from time to time. Wild plums mean a passing surprise on our way through a pasture and coming back later with the farm pickup to fill up a bucket, me squished in the middle seat between my husband and my dad, the Twins playing on the radio as we bump along on prairie trails that haven’t been under a tire in months looking for that magical patch of fruit, wondering out loud if we could of dreamed it.

A wild plum patch means listening to the two men banter as they pick and reach and gather like little boys, making plans for the best way to fill our bucket.

“Shake the tree, we can get the ones on top.”

“Keep ’em out of the cow poop!”

“Are you eating them, Jess? Hey, no eating!

“I’ve never seen a patch like this. Jessie, you can make so much jelly!”

Yes. I could. With the 6 gallons of plums we picked standing in the bed of the pickup, ducked down in the clearing where the cows lay, scaling along the edges of the trees. I could make jars of jelly, pies, pastries and syrups to last until next plum picking. I could. Maybe I will.

But even if I didn’t, even if we did nothing more than feed those wild plums to the birds, it wouldn’t matter. The magic of wild and pure things is in their discovery and the sweet reminder that happiness can be as simple as a wild plum patch.

A garden is an act of hope for the future


It’s about that time of year when all you gardeners out there are discovering you have a cucumber situation. I was that gardener once, but these days all I’m growing is pigweeds in my new retaining wall and that’s a story for another day. Turns out pigweeds are the only thing that seem to multiply faster than a cucumber (unless you count zucchini, but I only count it when I’m throwing it in the coulee or trying to figure out how you all make it taste like chocolate cake).

Yes, it’s coming up on garden harvest season and because and I’m feeling nostalgic about gardens of my past. Because there’s something magical about a garden, it’s always been that way for me. As a kid I gladly claimed the role of garden planter and helper each season, carefully spacing and placing the bean seeds two inches apart and finding the right stick to mark the row before moving on to the radish and carrot mix, dreaming of the hot summer day when I could come out and pull a ripe pea pod off the vine.

There is no crisp like the fresh snap of a pea pod. There is no orange like the orange on a carrot, the subtle hint of black earth lingering as you take a bite by the garden hose. There’s nothing more fresh than slicing into a ripe, red tomato, its juice and seeds spilling over onto your kitchen counter where you think it’s a shame to waste it on sauce or supper, so you finish the whole thing off right there. And there’s nothing more satisfying than reaping the rewards of a past and personal effort you put in to something that came alive, before your very eyes, simply because you cared.

Because planting a garden is the physical act of hope for the future.

My Niece Emma robbing Papa Gene’s Garden

When I was a young kid and my family lived in Grand Forks, my dad helped my great grandma Eleanor keep her backyard garden. I reach way back in the archives of my memory and I can see my dad disappearing and reappearing from under the leaves of waist-high tomato plants while my great grandmother stood on the edge of her lawn to visit and I itched the fresh mosquito bites on my bare legs.

That Red River Valley dirt held different kind of secrets than the rocky, gumbo clay of my dad’s home in Western North Dakota. I was too young to understand how much that garden must have meant to both him, a ranch kid missing home, and to my great-grandma Eleanor, whose knees were too worn to do the planting and the weeding.

And in the high heat of summer, when the vegetables were ripe for harvesting, my great grandma looked forward to picking and chopping and mixing up her sister Maebelle’s Garden Soup. It’s something my mom looked forward to each year as a way to connect with her grandmother. It was a labor of love, a practice of patience and a tradition tied to family tied directly to the ground beneath our feet.

And so I want to share the recipe for you here as an offering of hope, a reason to take care and a special way to enjoy all that you’ve been watering this season.

Aunt Maebelle’s Garden Soup

As written on my mom’s recipe card.

Get out your 8 qt. or 12 qt. stainless steel soup kettle (Maebelle was very specific)

Dice 3 LARGE sweet onions (the “heart” of this soup)

Melt a 1/2 stick of butter in the soup kettle and add onion and sauté slowly until they are soft (but not browned). It will take a while.

Add 6 large potatoes, peeled and cubed, and 6 large carrots, peeled and cubed, to the onion and cover all with 3 cups of water. Cook gently. Stir.

When the carrots and potatoes are partially cooked, add 1 pound of yellow beans (summer only) and 1 pound green beans (fresh or frozen). Beans should be cut up in 1/2 inch pieces.

Add lots of fresh chopped flat leafed parsley and lots of fresh dill (or dry dill weed)

Season with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and Lawry’s Seasoned Pepper (to taste)

When the above has cooked, add a can of cream style corn and stir

(Now here’s my favorite part) Add 1/2 stick butter and let sit (not cooking) for 1 hour or so. (This seems weird, but it’s the rules)

Bring heat up and add 16 oz. package of frozen petite peas

Add 1 1/2 quarts of whole milk (Maebelle was known to slip a little half and half in also)

Adjust to your own taste. Try not to add more than 3 cups water. Maybe more milk, half and half or cream.

When I flipped the recipe card over I discovered that Maebelle often made “bullet” dumplings to add to this soup. I’ve never had this soup with dumplings, but you can’t go wrong with dumplings.

Now invite your family over to help chop, chat and enjoy!

Emma’s outfit is goals.

Tiny, perfect things

There is a hill on the ranch that is completely covered in tiger lilies. My little sister went on a ride with Dad and they discovered them, a scattering of bright orange petals opening up to the bright blue sky.

It has been a dry year here, with our spring rain coming to us late, and so our wildflower crop is just now appearing. And this news about the tiger lilies may not seem so thrilling to some, but it’s exciting for us.

Because the flower is so perfect, and so exotic looking, and they don’t always come up every year. So when they do, we feel like we have access to our own personal florist, Mother Nature.

I don’t know if everyone has a favorite flower, but the tiger lily is mine. I carried them at my wedding, a bouquet of orange walking with me down a grassy, makeshift aisle in a cow pasture. We had to mow and build benches and move cow pies to make it presentable for guests, but we didn’t get rid of all of the cactus. My little sister found this out as she was making her trek down the aisle in front of me. I didn’t know if she was crying because of the cactus in her leg, or if she was so happy for us. I think a little of both.

Anyway, that’s what happens when you live in a wild place. No matter how you try to tame it, the flies and the thorns, the barn swallows and the raccoons, they don’t care about your fancy new deck furniture that you got for the family reunion — they will show up to eat the cat food and then poop on it.

And so then you sort of become wild, too. I know because I caught myself standing outside in my underwear one morning yelling at the birds to find a new place to make their messy clay nests. Not here, swallows. Not on the side of my house! And my husband? Well, he likes to scare raccoons at midnight… also in his underwear.

Anyway, I guess that’s why the wildflowers seem so special out here. For so much of the year we’re battling the elements, praying for rain, shoveling snow, bundling up, tracking mud in the house, pulling burs out of horses’ manes, cutting down weeds and clearing and cleaning and building and doctoring. The wildflowers, especially the tiger lily, seem like a reminder that there is perfection in this world, in the smallest things. Tiny, pretty miracles surviving despite and because of the hot sun and clay dirt.

I took my girls to that tiger lily hill the other day to check out this year’s crop. On the way they were singing Bible school songs they just learned, doing the actions and repeating the lines over and not quite right the way little kids do in the cutest way.

They had never seen a tiger lily before, and so it was a fun and easy Easter egg hunt, each girl grabbing up more than a handful of the flowers and thrilled with it all. With the familiar songs they were humming, and their sun-flushed cheeks and mosquito-bit arms, I couldn’t help but think: Now isn’t this the quintessential ranch summer?

I wonder what they will remember about being a little kid out in these hills. Do they feel as wild and free as I used to feel out here, enamored with the mystery of this place and how it can change so magically by the hour, the sun sinking down, turning the tips of the trees and grass and my daughters’ hair golden?

I hope so. I hope they feel as wild and beautiful and as loved as those lilies, because they are to me. My own little tiger lilies on the hilltop, growing before my eyes.

My favorite little flowers reminding us that there are perfect things in this world.

Free and safe and lonesome…

There’s a hill outside my house we call Pots and Pans.

When we were kids, my cousins and I would take the trek from my grandparent’s barnyard, past the bulls munching on hay, over the corral fences, along the dusty cow trail, up big granite rocks, stopping to declare we were kings and queens of the world, taking a juice box from our fanny packs to sit for a break along the way, kicking up little cactuses to add to the drama and adventure of finally making it up to the peak where old pots, pans and sifters waited for us among the sandstone rocks so that we could pretend the way kids do, while the grass scratched our bare legs and the wind whipped through our wild hair and the North Dakota summer sun flushed our cheeks.

And we could see everything from way up there. We could see the red barn our grandpa moved in with his brother and dad 50 years before. We could see the grain bins and the black cows and the sorrel and bay horses and the line of old fence posts trying to hold them in. The reflection of the hot sun on the stock dam and the tops of the oak trees bending in the relentless wind. And the mailbox and the pink road cutting through it all. We could see it all up there and I remember it making me feel free and lonesome and safe all at the same time.

And we were just kids, so we could have played anything up there. We could have been superheroes or dinosaurs, gold miners or Jesse James and his gang. We could have been magical fairies or mermaids or wild horses even. Kids that age, in the sweet spot between 3 and 10, with space and freedom like that, we could have been anything.

But we gathered those pots and pans up and we pretended to be grown-up versions of ourselves making supper for our children out of dirt and sweet clover, washing dishes, singing to them and putting them to bed in the house we made from the boundaries of the rocks and the tree line.

We could have been anything, and so we pretended to be grown-ups. What a thing to pretend. If we only knew how much of it really becomes cooking supper and tidying up the messes we make, tucking one another in at night and wondering what it’s going to be like…

Because we thought that we would someday be old enough and know enough to be as free as we wanted to be. No more rules. No more bedtime. No more supper table to sit at until we finished the spinach on our plates. We didn’t know then that maybe, on that hilltop, picking cactuses out of our little cousin’s bare legs, that we may have been as free as we’ll ever be.

Last week, we gathered up on that hilltop again, all of us cousins, over 30 years later, carrying our children on our backs, or holding their little hands, explaining the magic to our husbands and boyfriends, stepping on cactuses and gathering up the old pots and pans that had scattered down the bank over the years, just like us I suppose, gathered up from Texas and Minnesota and South Dakota and from just down the road outside the houses we put here, under that big hill, all grown-up now, like we wanted to be.

If you’ve ever wondered, like me, what keeps us bound to one another, I wonder if it isn’t as simple as the memories. It sounds silly, but for us cousins, it only had to be as epic as finding kittens in the old barn, or pretending that pink road was made of yellow bricks and one of us was Dorothy.

We held onto one another because we were given time and space to create a bond on a landscape with no agenda but to be to us what we dreamed it to be. And so the years between then and now, in the growing-up part that took us far from those hilltops, we held those memories, those old pots and pans and cactuses and black cows and clay buttes as a part of us.

Standing on that hilltop with them again, all these years later in the thick of the messy and wonderful and complicated lives we built, the grass scratched our bare legs and the wind whipped through our wild hair and the North Dakota summer sun flushed our cheeks again. We could see everything… free and safe and lonesome, all at the same time.

Maybe it’s the rain

Maybe it’s the rain
Forum Communication

I’ve been working on another book the past few months. Like the last, it’s a compilation of some of my favorite photos, columns, blogs, poems and recipes from the past 10 years I’ve spent documenting what it means to raise kids and cattle and make a life on the ranch.

Like the last, it’s been a nostalgic and difficult project to take on with full-time work, ranch life and two loud and wonderfully distracting kids in the house.

I typically don’t spend much time looking back on what I’ve written because I have to focus on what to write. And so I’ve been seeing our lives a little differently lately, thinking about how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t, how some things have changed completely and how some things haven’t changed at all, and it’s from that place that I share this piece on that limbo between past and present, a reflection brought on by the rain.

It was late August, and it had been hot for weeks, the kind of heat you remember as a kid, where Popsicles melt on sticks in the heavy air that sends the flies gathering at horses’ bellies and driving them to bob their heads and swish their tails in the trees.

We were sweating it out in the little house in the barnyard where my grandparents used to live, three years into our marriage and three months into unpacking our lives back home at the ranch where I was raised. And it was only six years ago, but we were just kids, really, with plans big enough to keep us busy.

But that day we resigned to the weather, keeping busy with tasks in a house that was sinking and shrinking with the weight of time.

And then the clouds rolled in, dark and as ominous as the lightning on the horizon, and we found ourselves standing, noses pressed to the screen door, watching the water form new rivers and waterfalls in the corrals.

The buttes in the horse pasture turned from rock to slick mud in a matter of minutes, and soon I found myself running behind my new husband through the mud, past the new barnyard river and scrambling up to the top of those buttes where we stood side by side before launching our bodies down the steep bank of that hill, sliding on the slippery, wet gumbo, just like we used to do as kids.

I’ve told this story before. You may remember it and how it ended in bruises, bloody scrapes and a heap of laughter spilling out into that dark, rainy night.

I’m thinking about it now because last weekend I found myself out in the rain again with my husband. We were riding through an unfamiliar pasture looking for a couple stray cows. The day was still, but the sky kept spitting on us, a little mist followed by small, flying drops hitting our cheeks and gathering on our horses’ manes.

It was a quiet rain, the kind that seems to clean up the landscape, making the colors richer against the gray sky. And I just kept looking at my husband on the back of his bay horse, his black hat and red scarf moving along the big landscape, and I started thinking about the times in my life where the rain made the moment.

I decided this was one of them.

And it was perfect timing, I think, following behind him on trails where he broke branches for me or hollered my name from a hilltop. We were doing work, and we were living out a plan, rain or shine.

But that day, I preferred the rain, because I was starting to wonder if it is possible to spend the rest of my life here without losing the magic of this place. A few days before, I received a note from a man telling me that my life seemed romantic in a way that few people know and that I was lucky for it.

I sort of felt like a fraud, wondering if I gave him a false conclusion. Settling into a new life as a mother and a new partnership as parents, no matter how much we wanted it, hasn’t been an easy and seamless transition. I’ve been struggling with it in ways I hadn’t expected.

I began to wonder if I was the same woman who slid down that gumbo hill with that young man six years ago.

We pushed up the bank of a wooded coulee, and I listened to the rain hitting the leaves and the branches break against the chest of my horse, and I thought about how I was taught to lean forward as a horse takes you through the trees so that you don’t catch one to the face and get pulled off.

It’s a lesson I reach back for when I’m in the thick of it, the same way I reach back for the girl who kissed a boy under that old oak tree in the field, promising him forever, no matter the weather.

So maybe it’s the memories we make that keep this place magic.

Or maybe it’s just the rain.

Rain on the Buttes

I’ll be performing at the TAK Music Venue in Dilworth, Minn., on June 17 and in Jamestown, N.D., on June 24. Hope to see you all out and about!

The myth of “back to normal?”

Was there ever such a thing as normal?
 The more I think about wanting to return to “normal,” the more absurd I find the whole concept.

The new year is upon us. Finally.

I sit in front of this computer screen compelled to work out something profound as we bid adieu to a year that has brought us together and torn us apart, made us lose and find hope, scared us, confused us, angered us and often found us wishing time away and saying things like, “I can’t wait to get back to normal.”

I’ve said it myself plenty of times, yet only recently have I really sunk my teeth into what this “normal” actually looks like. And the more I reach to know it, the more absurd I find it.

Because we seem to be holding this “normal” to standards with which we’re sure we recall living at ease, comfortable and certain of what our tomorrow was going to look like, as if that’s a gift we once possessed together. Normal. Is there such a thing really?

The beauty and tragedy of time ticking away the seconds, minutes and hours that make up a life, is that any of those seconds, minutes or hours have the ability to change our course, and change us, profoundly. In 2020, we got to experience that as a nation, as a world, in a sense, collectively.

But collectively, we did not all have the same experience, the same struggles, the same outcomes, the same attitude or willfulness or support or despair. And saying that we’re all in this together, in this “new normal,” felt like a bitter and hard pill to swallow when the numbers didn’t add up and your business had to close. Or your father died. Or you haven’t seen your grandmother in person for months and your children are home from school, but you still need to report to work and there is no one knocking on your door to help you fill in the gaps that these unprecedented times have handed you.

With the exception of some small tasks and ways of living, there has not ever been a universal normal, let alone a universal new normal. But I think we can all agree that what we have endured these past nine months as a country and as global citizens is unnerving, upsetting, heartbreaking, eye-opening and, hopefully, humbling.

And so I’ve taken to reading. Novels and memoirs printed on dog-eared pages with the bed lamp on when the house is quiet like I used to do before our normal was parenthood and overwhelming plans in the works and handheld screens that dictated our schedule and mood and how we tick away the time.

Last night, I turned the last page on a memoir written by a woman raised by a Norwegian immigrant mother in the early 1900s. There were pages about what it took to feed her family, the 200 chickens and trading eggs each week, 20 miles away in Williston, N.D.

Nothing to do but Stay

There were pages on a father spending the winter clearing a path to and from the one-room schoolhouse where his teenage daughter taught and his younger children learned, and then, when it got too impossible, leaving them there to spend the week, because they didn’t want to risk students arriving alone to an empty schoolhouse.

And then there were pages about the flu pandemic of 1918 and how one woman’s chicken noodle soup delivered by horse and wagon one cold winter evening may have saved a life, and on and on I found new perspective and new gratitude for those who have endured the “normal” that came before us.

So now here’s the best I can do. In this new year, my hope is that we can all come to accept that we are humans who live on constant shifting sand. And once we accept it, perhaps we can find some time to be grateful for it, with the understanding that even though we do not all live in the same state of normal, we have within us the power to be there for one another.

And if we have nothing else in common, that’s one gift we do, indeed, possess together.

As wide as the sky…

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I took Edie on a horse with me for the first time last weekend. We just got back from what I’m now calling my annual Mother’s Day Ride, because we’ve done it two years in a row now and it’s pretty much the only time since giving birth that I insist that today I’m going riding, so who wants to watch the baby?

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The day before we took Edie to her first horse sale in one of those spontaneous last minute decisions to do the thing we probably shouldn’t do instead of the million other things we should be doing, and so, because it was going to be 80 degrees, too hot for productivity, we loaded up and headed to the big town to sit at the sale barn and see if we couldn’t find a horse or two to replace our good buddy Stormy.

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I submitted next week’s column on how much I love the sale barn, an affection solely tied to the memories I gathered when I was a kid tagging along with dad, because I found, even at 80 degrees with a wiggly, sweaty toddler, I still loved it. And I think Edie did too. She really got into the whole yelling thing. I think she might have even bid on a few herself 🙂

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Anyway, a have a little more to say about that for next week, but I will tell you this, if you think we sat through an entire horse sale without winning a bid or two, well then, you don’t know us very well.

If you figured we’d come home with more than one, well then you’ve hung around here a fare bit. Because we headed home with two nice geldings and my Sunday Mother’s Day Ride was a perfect time for the guys to try them out while I plodded along beside them safe on my trusty steed, Rocky, not willing to be the one who discovers the kinks.

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It was a beautiful, windy, spring day and we didn’t even really do any work or chasing cows. The cows were spread, hiding in the trees, munching on the long grass and weeds that grow on the creek bottom and so we just looked around at the scenery, commented on how things are greening up and caught whiffs of the blossom scent blowing up and on in our nostrils.

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Chad’s new dun rode out nice and calm and the paint we got for the purpose of an amateur/kid horse seemed to do his lazy job just fine. So we were pleased we could say so far so good.

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My little sister (and her big baby belly) was inside the house with Edie and I thought it would be fun to ride down and see if she wanted to get on a horse (the toddler, not the belly). I came in to get her just as Alex was getting ready to bend over and try to squeeze Edie’s boots on, so she was grateful for the relief.

And Edie was pretty excited to be up on that horse. As soon as she decided this was one of those things she loved, she basically did what she does, and became obsessed with it.

Couldn’t take her down.

When her cousin showed up to take a turn, she lost her shit when he disappeared with Papa over the hill, reminding me yet again that 1 1/2 year olds are the worst at sharing.

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Turns out she had the same sentiment toward sharing her harmonica, bouncy horse, toy tractors and Papa too.

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Good thing the 6-year-old is tolerant.

IMG_6509Anyway, having her up on that horse with me was one of those moments when I realized that a dream I used dream was coming true. I’m not deep enough into this motherhood thing to forget how much we wanted and waited for little things like this.

And I didn’t realize how wide my smile was until I watched the video back. It seemed it almost matched hers.

It was one of the best days I’ve had in a long time because of this. I remember how hard Mother’s Days used to be for me. It’s getting easier to forget, but I will never forget. For all those mommas-to-be out there waiting for their babies, I promise I will never forget.

And I hope with all my heart that you get a moment in your life like I had on Sunday, a moment where you hold your child and the two of you smile as wide as the sky you’ve been given a chance to raise her under…

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Stick Shift…Shit

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

I have a confession to make.

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

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

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

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

I blame my dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will always blame him.

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

On the backs of old horses

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Somewhere in time’s own space
There must be some sweet pastured place
Where creeks sing on and tall trees grow
Some paradise where horses go,
For by the love that guides my pen
I know great horses live again.
~Stanley Harrison

Life lessons learned on the backs of old horses
by Jessie Veeder
1-15-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com 

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Every farm or ranch needs an old horse, an animal with a long story of seeing it all so that he can be trusted with the smallest rider or the most inexperienced visitor who wants to see the place on horseback, a request that can be sort of nerve-wracking if you don’t have a trustworthy grandpa or gramma in the pen.

Because an old horse can make up in experience what your rider lacks. He won’t shy from that weird-shaped rock on the hill because he’s seen it a thousand times.

He won’t be spooked by a pheasant flying out of the brush because he’s too focused on stealing snips of sweet clover while he walks.

He won’t buck because he’s learned it doesn’t pay, and he won’t run off because he knows better and, frankly, he’s too tired for running.

Never been on the back of a horse?

An old horse will make you feel comfortable, anticipating the trail, avoiding the holes, calmly swishing the flies with his tail and generally ignoring the fact that your nerves are making you squeeze your legs too tight around him, your reins are too loose and dragging and you’re leaning a little too far to the left. There’s really nothing stopping him from walking back to the barn if he wanted.

But he won’t.

Because old horses know the right times to get away with bad behavior (tip: always lean forward when he takes you through the trees.)

I learned to ride on the back of an old red mare named Rindy. She was perfect for me in all the ways she was imperfect; her lack of withers and round belly made me pay attention to the cinch, her rough gait made me focus on my seat and her cowiness taught me to be cowy too.

And just when I thought things were going along smoothly, that old mare would throw in a little surprise, teaching me that paying attention is the first rule of horsemanship.

Anyway, Rindy has been gone for years, replaced by an old rodeo horse named Annie before Dad traded one of his colts for an old mule and a speckled trail horse named Stormy a few years before I moved back to the ranch.

Stormy became the grampa out here, deserving of every extra nibble of grain he ever received.

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He was the first horse I put all my nieces and nephews on when their legs were barely long enough to straddle the saddle.

Stormy was responsible for the truest faces of pure joy I’ve seen on any kids and that’s just one of the reasons I will forever be grateful for him.

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But that’s the thing about old horses: just when they’ve become so completely priceless and precious and irreplaceable, we start to notice the creak in their joints and the hair on their muzzle turning gray, a reminder that time doesn’t go easy on even the best things.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Stormy gave his last ride to my oldest niece this summer. We took off after supper just the two of us riding the home pasture, taking it slow, Stormy trailing a couple horse lengths behind me, the way he always has.

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It’s fitting really, because Stormy was the first horse my niece ever rode. I remember what she said before I hoisted her up on his back, her little straw hat with the pink piping sitting proudly on her head. “My tummy feels funny, like there’s flutters in there,” she declared.

Stormy taught her what nervous felt like, holding the power to turn a little girl into the cowgirl she dreamed she could be.

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And he was ready and waiting in the pasture when she was old enough and brave enough to go trotting over the hill alone, a story we revisit together often and one my niece will no doubt carry with her for her lifetime.

Because that’s what old horses give us and in return we carry their spirit in memories, stories, lessons learned and on the back of every horse we’ll ever ride again.

Rest easy, old friend. You were loved.

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