The sun sets on the end of July.
The sun sets on the end of July.
Here’s a quick update from the ranch while the baby is sleeping.
Here she is chilling’ with her post bath mohawk, drinking from her sippy cup and eating puffs. She only really likes to feed herself. Unless she sees me attempting to eat a plate full of food, then she wants what I’m having, and spoon-feeding is allowed.
I don’t think they’ll ever make a stroller meant for the trails I roll the poor girl across. A few trip sup the prairie road to the fields and back and the thing’s sort of worse for the wear. But all that bouncing can be worth something…
and also the reason I almost always put the baby in the pack.
Peace, Love and Huggies,
Jessie and her sidekick
Coming Home: Building good days a gift in this unpredictable life
by Jessie Veeder
Out here on the ranch, for some reason, I like to define them.
And there are about a million criteria for the qualifications of both, which, I guess, is a good thing and a bad thing, respectively.
But it could have been worse.
It could always be worse.
Funny, we say that a lot around here.
Get bucked off your horse and land in a cactus patch? Well, at least it wasn’t your head smashed on that big rock over there.
Couldn’t get the swather running after six hours of tinkering in the field under the hot sun? Well, at least you didn’t have to be in a conference room meeting all day.
Get your four-wheeler stuck up to its belly in the creek again because you tend to think you’re magic when you’re on that thing (Dad)? Perfect. Now I have some material.
When I think about it now, maybe that’s why I found my way back here. Because of the optimism that was somehow always generated even after the day had gone completely haywire. It’s a trait that could only occur in people who truly love what they’re doing. Who wouldn’t be drawn back to that?
Through the years, we’ve had plenty of opportunity for bad days, for long walks home after the pickup quit, for lessons learned about polyester shirts and welding torches, for doctoring a herd of cattle with pinkeye well after the sun went down, saying to one another, “Well, at least the nail you stepped on didn’t go all the way through your big toe,” or “Would have been so much harder without all your help.”
But now that I think about it, it’s sort of telling that we continue to say, “Well, it could be worse,” and skip over the entire concept that in times of tractor breakdowns, man-chasing momma cows and an incident with an exploding motor that almost started the entire barnyard on fire, it could always be better, too.
But just yesterday as I strapped the baby to my chest and took off hiking across the home pasture with my niece chatting happily beside me on a quest to fill my cap with enough wild raspberries to make some sort of dessert, I couldn’t help but label that moment “one that could not be better.”
Even with the flies and the thorns.
We woke up that Sunday morning to a smiling baby and a hankering for blueberry muffins. So we made them. Because, what luck! Blueberries were on sale and I had some in the fridge. So we cooked them up, along with eggs and bacon, and had ourselves a regular, fancy brunch.
And that evening, after stripping the baby down and watching her play and splash in the baby pool on the deck while the sun shone gold on the hilltops outside, after feeding her bananas as she sat in her robe and tiny socks, we tucked her sleepily into bed and ate a supper of grilled brats and beans together around the table outside. My husband put his feet up after a day of fixing equipment, and my niece and I saddled up the two lazy horses in the barnyard and took off together, walking slowly across those hills dotted with wildflowers and berries and we just kept saying, “Well, it’s so beautiful out here isn’t it?”
It just couldn’t be better.
And while I know there are plenty of ways to define the bad days, the days that are out of your control, I couldn’t help but think in that moment how wonderful it is to know that you can build your own good ones.
How to make wild raspberry dessert
Wake up in the morning to a happy husband, a well-rested niece and a smiling baby. Snuggle the baby. Play and roll around with her on the floor. Put her in her high chair so she can feed herself blueberry puffs. Hear your husband say, “Man, it would be nice to have a blueberry muffin right now.” Remember you have blueberries in the fridge.
Locate a blueberry muffin recipe with the help of your niece. Preheat the oven and read the directions while your niece mixes up the ingredients. Think that maybe bacon and eggs would go good with fresh blueberry muffins. Because you always have bacon in the house.
Proceed with the bacon cooking while blueberry muffins bake.
Crack and fry some perfectly over easy eggs. Find a double yolker. Declare it good luck.
Pour some orange juice, put the baby in her high chair, make a plate and gather around the table. Declare that Martha Stewart has nothing on you.
Hear Pops say something about all the raspberries out in the pasture. Decide that they can’t all go to the birds.
Put the dishes in the sink pull on your jeans and boots. Strap the baby to your chest, douse skin in bug spray and sunscreen and head out the door with your niece and the dogs. Declare it a beautiful morning. Declare that it’s sort of hot though.
Peel your eyes for raspberries. Locate raspberries in the thorny brush below where the juneberries, bullberries and chokecherries grow. Watch the dogs disappear in and out of the brush patches chasing phantom rabbits and birds and taking a break from the heat. Find it funny.
(Chicken dinner for you if you can spot Dolly down there…)
Send the niece in to the deep brush to get the fat berries.
Check your back pocket for the baggie you brought along. Realize you dropped it somewhere. Take off your hat. Decide that will do.
Pick a berry. Eat a berry. Put a berry in the hat. Swat a fly. Pull a thorn. Pick a berry. Eat a Berry. Put a berry in the hat.
Repeat Step 9 like a hundred or so times.
Check to make sure the baby strapped to your chest isn’t eating the berries too. Pick up the toy she dropped in the thick brush for the third time.
Wipe the sweat. Pick a thorn out of the niece’s hand. Eat a berry. Check your stash. Wonder if that’s enough to make anything. Declare it officially hot out now. Eat a berry. Climb the hill to the teepee rings to catch some breeze.
Realize the baby dropped the toy again and now it’s out in the wild pasture to be found 100 years from now, along with all Pops’ missing gloves and tools.
Head back to the house, noticing the beautiful wildflowers along the way.
Strip off your clothes and check for ticks. Strip off the baby’s clothes and check for ticks. Put her on the floor to play.
Rinse the berries.
Eat a few more
Look up some recipes online for raspberry dessert, trying for the perfect concoction that doesn’t interfere with the integrity of the raspberry.
Eat a couple more raspberries.
Deny every suggested recipe found…
Decide that there is no dessert you can make that tastes as good as a wild raspberry itself.
Eat more raspberries
Have lunch. Put the baby down for a nap. Putz around the house. Wait for Husband to get home..
Give the baby a bath. Put her in her robe. Decide she looks like an adorable old man. Feed her something yummy. Rock her to sleep.
Grill brats. Eat on the deck.
Leave the dishes for the husband.
Declare it a beautiful night.
Listen to your niece tell you stories and wonder where the time went and when she grew up so quickly.
Head back to the barn. Let the horses out. Walk to the house. Strip down. Check for ticks.
Eat some raspberries.
Declare it a good day.
Sleep tight. Good night.
Last night Husband came home from mom and dad’s with an armful of mail and a ziplock baggie on the counter full of fresh garden peas.
I was standing in the kitchen feeding the baby and he plopped that ziplock down on the counter next to me.
“Your dad thought you might want these,” he said. “They’re from his garden.”
I held the spoon full of smushed plums in a hover position in front of my wiggling baby and with my other hand I examined that bag of peas in disbelief and envy.
“He does NOT have peas yet!” I declared to my husband who had moved on with his life, and pulled the hover spoon from my hand and into the baby’s mouth.
“No wayyyy!!!” I declared again.
“Yup,” said the man I married.
In my head I visualized the plants I examined in his garden just week before. In my head I thought there was no way they could have flowered and grown a plethora of vegetables while I was away on a camping trip for the love of Martha Stewart.
But my head was foggy. I was tired. Turns out the baby doesn’t sleep much on camping trips.
And neither does her mom.
The dad could sleep on the back of a cheetah chasing after a gazelle in the jungle. Wait, do cheetahs even live in the jungle?
I don’t even know things anymore. Earlier that morning I sneezed and immediately said “Pew.” Instead of “excuse me.” And then, realizing my error, I corrected it by saying “Thank you.” In front of all the family. They are very likely concerned. But what the hell? This baby took all of my brains.
Anyway, back to the peas. I left them sitting on the counter without further discussion while I went about making supper, cleaning up the baby, throwing a load of camping blankets in the washing machine and generally biding my time before the child went down for the night so I could too.
But I couldn’t get past the peas. He couldn’t possibly have peas already. Didn’t they just sprout a few weeks ago? Mine are barely visible leaves in a sea of black dirt out front. And while he planted them on Memorial Weekend like he was supposed to, and used a pile of sheep manure, and watered and weeded and basically pulled out his A+ horticulturalist game, there is no way that little vegetable plot could be that far along and that far ahead of mine…
Husband came out from putting the baby down and sat in his chair. I plopped down the ottoman and stared blankly out the window while I mulled over my conclusion before turning Husband and declaring…
“I’m pretty sure dad transplanted his garden from a greenhouse. I mean, think about it. One day his garden is dirt and the next he has full fledged plants. I never saw the in-between! That has to be it. Those pea plants were started already when he put them in the ground. It makes sense. Makes total sense!!”
“Those peas were from the Farmer’s Market.”
“Your dad. He got them from the Farmer’s Market.”
“Wait. What Farmers Market?”
“The one in Minnesota. He thought it would be funny to give them to you and tell you they were his. I didn’t know how long to let it go. He thought it would be funny to mess with you. And it was.”
Well that explains it.
If you need me I’ll be out in my garden…
Because this. This is what I’m dealing with.
Last night I went on a walk to close some gates in our home pasture and check a couple juneberry patches.
Juneberries are a special treat around here. Like wild mini-blueberries, if they show up, they show up around this time to much fan fare for those of us who know people who make pies.
Juneberries make the best pies in the world.
Probably because getting to them before the frost kills them or the birds eat them up is so rare, and the entire task of picking enough of the little purple berries sends you to the most mosquito and tick infested, hot, thorny, itchiest places in the free world, so finally making and tasting a Juneberry pie is like completing some prairie, culinary, ironman marathon.
Only better and more gratifying, because, well, pie.
Anyway, my little stroll before sunset was only mildly successful. The gates on this place were made to be shut only by Thor himself. Or the Hulk. Or some hybrid of a bear-man. By the time I grunted and groaned, used my entire body weight trying to push the two posts together to maybe, possibly, for the love of Dolly Parton, stretch the three wires tight enough to get the little wire loop over the top of the scrawny post, I was sweating, cussing, bleeding and wondering how I missed the yeti that we apparently hired to fix the gates on this place.
I called Husband on my cell phone (who was inside the house with the baby, like twenty yards away) and told him there’s no way in hell I’m ever getting that damn gate shut and that shutting the damn gates was his job from now on who the hell do you think I am what the hell is this all about who in their right mind makes gates that tight good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart.
And, if you’re wondering, the gate on the other side of that pasture went about the same way…
Anyway, on my way I did in fact locate a big ‘ol juneberry patch. But the best berries, of course, were hanging out about fifteen feet above my head at the very tops of the bushes. And to get to them I had to wade through thorny bushes up to my armpits. But some of those thorny bushes had raspberries growing on them, so that was a win.
I proceeded to eat every ripe red berry I could find.
Even the one with the worm on it…which I discovered after I put it in my mouth and crunched.
So that was a loss.
Yes, the raspberries, worms and all, were within my reach. The juneberries, not so much. But tonight I’m going to use my best convincing skills to see if Husband might want to come with me to back our old pickup up to that bush, stand in the box, brave the mosquitos and pick us some berries.
Anyway, when I got home I discovered that apparently wading up to my armpits in thorny brush to pick raspberries was not only a good way to accidentally eat a worm, but, even better, it’s a great way to acquire 500 wood ticks.
I came home and picked off a good fifteen or so. Stripped down to my undies, checked myself out in the mirror, sat down on the chair and proceeded to pick off at least five more.
When I crawled into bed I wondered out loud to Husband what time of night I would wake up to a tick crawling across my face. He made a guess. I made a guess.
But we were both wrong.
At about 12:30 or so, just as I had drifted into a really nice slumber, I was indeed awoken by a tick…but it wasn’t crawling across my face. No.
It was crawling toward my butt crack.
Thank good gawd sweet mercy Martha Stewart, I cut him off at the pass…
Ugh, all I wanted to do was close some freakin’ gates…
A storm built up over us last night just as I was settling in to bed. The radar screamed red and flashed tornado warnings above our town while we sat in the house at the ranch, pressing our noses against the windows to watch the dark clouds skim past us, leaving nothing but some wind that bent the trees down pretty good, a little hail that poked some holes in my petunias and a headache from all my worrying.
It seemed the town, despite the tornado warning, fared ok. A few backyard trampolines were displaced, cars were dented, lawn chairs rearranged and what not, but that’s small potatoes compared to what could have been. After the tornado that ripped through an RV park in my hometown a few summers back, I think people are a little punchy about the summer weather.
And I have to admit so am I. I have seen too many close calls in my life.
Tonight was the definition of the calm after the storm. 60 degrees and still, the smell of cattle hanging in the air. The wildflowers poking up out of the cool ground. The sun setting golden on the grass, kissing it just the way I like.
I was feeling a little emotionally drained and frazzled after a long couple days of trying to comfort a baby who just wants to be happy, but dammit, she’s sprouted five teeth in a matter of a couple weeks. So I’ve been coping by snuggles and distracting her with walks outside to watch the dogs, and this morning, to chase a cow who had somehow mysteriously got into the yard. Edie thought it was funny how the old bag made a point of pooping during her entire walk to the exit, leaving a smelly string of lawn ornaments for me to pick up.
I know what her chore will be some day.
And if holding a baby on your hip while chasing a cow out of the yard isn’t multi-tasking enough, I’ve also found myself setting up an office in my car to get some work done, taking advantage of the fact that the baby fell asleep during the three minute drive to the other place to feed the calf.
This afternoon I was busted twice working in my car by my brother-in-law. Once behind my mom’s shop after a meeting in town and once on the hill before home. Because the baby’s gonna wake up once I open that door…and well, she’s got teeth to sprout and I’ve got shit to do.
But that reasoning is sort of hard to explain to a man who maybe thinks I’m a little kooky already…
Anyway, the time was right to take a walk. To see a little of my world from out behind the computer screen and bald baby head (bless her heart.)
This is my favorite time of year and it was my favorite time of day and it’s all so fleeting isn’t it?
That’s what makes it so especially beautiful I think…
I feel like making time to really see it is as important to me as breathing these days.
I think the same can be said with this baby and me.
Those stormy patches are rough, but oh so momentary too.
And the rest of it is a whirlwind of pretty damn special.
Pops turned 60 on Tuesday.
A few weeks ago we had a big birthday party for him, complete with noodle salads and dessert, music on the porch, BYOB and a big board of embarrassing photos his sister drug out of the archives and presented.
My Aunt K. is the family historian. And now that she’s newly retired, she has the time to dedicated to embarrassing her brother just like in the olden days.
Anyway, this week his brother is up from Texas and they are fixing fences, riding through cows and catching up.
I love it when family comes to the ranch. I especially love it when we’re around the supper table or chatting over drinks on the deck and old stories come up about the time when they were kids and their dad had a load of bulls on the truck in a cattle rack and forgot to latch the dump chain, successfully delivering the entire load of Charolais bulls on their butts in the yard.
“It was a pile of white bovine flesh,”* said Uncle W.
“And dad got out of the truck and started swearing and kicking at the chickens,” said Pops.
“And mom probly saw the whole thing from the kitchen window, but there was a back door on that house and she probly hightailed it outside to the garden…”
And there’s a million more where that came from.
But here’s one that Aunt K. told the night of the party about my dad as a little boy. I can’t remember how old now, but I imagine him seven or so, brown hair, brown skin, chubby cheeks and husky jeans.
He was riding in the car on the highway with his dad and spotted a road kill raccoon likely on its way to resembling a furry pancake due to its high traffic position on the road.
And he made his dad pull over so that the little seven-year-old version of my dad could scoop up that poor flattened soul and put it in a plastic bag.
“I know that animals get hit out here,” he explained to his father. “But it just isn’t right to let people keep running over him like that.”
And so his dad drove the tiny savior and the poor varmint his son scraped up back to the ranch where he received a proper burial.
And if that story doesn’t sum up what type of man he is, well then, I don’t know what else to tell you about the guy.
Except happy 60th dad. We love you.
*the Bulls were fine :)
Here’s Edie, doing what we do in the morning.
Rolling and flipping and grabbing and smiling and screaming at her toys because they aren’t doing what she wants them to do and I have no idea what that might be but it sure pisses her off.
But mostly she’s plain happy, as long as there’s action.
So when she’s done rolling and flipping and screeching I put her on her horse.
And as you can see she likes it.
So you can imagine her delight when we put her on a real horse yesterday.
We had a branding at the neighbor’s and Pops brought the horse around before he rode it back home.
I wish we had a video camera to record what she moved like when we put her close to the nose of that bay and then up on his back. It was one of my favorite moments with her.
All of the sudden I had this flash-forward moment to all of the things I dreamed about doing with our daughter out here on this place someday. I saw her up there so tiny and excited, reaching for the horn of the saddle and squealing and then reaching further to grab the black mane and I saw her at five years old, blond hair and curls, riding a pony while I lead her around the pen in front of the barn. And then I saw her at ten years old, on a big horse, following behind us across the pasture in the warm glow of a sinking summer sun, her face flushed and dirty, her hair windswept.
And then she’s sixteen and I’m holding my breath, her ponytail flying and bouncing under her straw hat as she rounds the last barrel at a rodeo and I let out a sigh of relief…
Maybe it was watching the neighbor girls that I used to babysit all grown up and beautiful, helping to ride and wrestle calves, or maybe it was the light of the evening casting long shadows and reflecting off the dust in the air, making everything soft and dreamlike, but I was nostalgic for a future with this tiny little human who could just as easily grow up to prefer video games to horses.
But for now she seems delighted by it all, by the big outdoors and the blue sky and the grass and especially the animals.
She has a physical elated reaction to them. She sucks in air and reaches out her hands and grabs their fur. When we go to feed the calf she has a mini hyperventilation spell. When she’s crying for no apparent reason all I have to do is open the door and walk out on the deck and a smile spreads across her face.
She leans down from my arms and tries to get closer to the dogs.
She reaches out for the kitty’s fur.
The wild world is hers…
Yes, this is Edie. Our daughter. Our baby discovering that the fun is just beginning.
Coming Home: Sometimes we need to take a different road to get back home
by Jessie Veeder
Last week I took a different road from town to home. I do that sometimes, to break up the scenery that flies by outside the window of my car. There were blossoms in the brush patches, the gravel roads had dried up from a week of rain, and I needed to see something new.
And it was only Monday.
But as the sun was setting on a day that took him to work and kept me home trying figure out a way to rock the baby, type and return a phone call at the same time, we found ourselves all three alone in the car together, driving home.
I can’t remember why we were all in town together, but I do remember that the radio was low and the baby was sleeping and I turned left off the highway where I normally would keep going straight and my husband asked what I was doing.
I said, “Don’t you ever take a different way home?”
“Yeah, I do sometimes,” he replied. And then we were on the back roads driving past neighbors’ houses we haven’t seen for a while, taking note of the green grass growing in the pastures, the baby calves kicking up their heels and the way the light hit the big butte close to home.
And under that butte, right next to the road, two large dark figures appeared before us and revealed themselves as giant elk. I reminded him of the weekend before
when three came down from the hills to water at the dam outside our window as I slowed the car down to take a better look at the animals that always seem to take our breath away.
Yesterday morning while the baby slept, I watched a flock of turkeys come down to the same dam to water. They lingered there undisrupted, one tom fanning his feathers, showing off in the morning sun.
I was wrapped up in the tasks of the day, the dirty bottles in the sink, the dirt tracked in on the floor and the work deadlines, but the privilege of witnessing wild things never fails to make me pause.
I’m glad we put so many windows in this house. Sometimes it’s easy to forget what a majestic place we’re living in when we’re living in it. I looked up from my computer screen and watched them waddle up the hill. I cracked the patio door and listened for the gobbles.
Last Saturday my husband arranged for my little sister to babysit for a few hours so we could take a ride together through the cows. It was a simple gesture that put me back in one of my favorite places after over a year of giving it up to grow and care for a baby. I swung my leg up over the saddle and listened to it squeak as I rode alongside my husband out of the barnyard and into the hills, the sun and the scent of plum blossoms.
In the past few months I’ve experienced some of the most wonderful moments of my life, but I’ve also found myself overcome with the task of working, mothering and trying to figure out how to be my best for my family. I’ve had my most happy moments, but I’ve also had my most ungrateful waves rush over me in frustration and exhaustion. But last Saturday my husband took me out — not to a movie or to a restaurant for wine — but out of our house and into the hills and coulees of the place we love.
Because he knows, sometimes all I need is to take a different way home.