Banquet in a Field: Telling our food story

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Dad and I had the opportunity to entertain for a unique event in Belfield, ND a few weeks ago for the Banquet in a Field event. Hosted by the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce Agricultural Committee, this event was focused on connecting consumers and North Dakota growers and producers. As cattle ranchers we were happy to have the opportunity to help support the idea that we need to find new and interesting ways to tell the story of our food, helping to bridge the gap and break down barriers in our industry.

The event was a great success, hosting 140 guests at Kessel’s Arrow K Farms, literally placing consumers where it all begins–right in our beautiful North Dakota backyard. The evening was not only a showcase of production agriculture, it was a first-hand look at scenic Western North Dakota.

As guests socialized and enjoyed appetizers made from local ingredients, dad and I played our old standards under the shade of tall cottonwoods that have likely stood as windbreaks for generations. The wheat field in front of us rolled in the much appreciated breeze and I felt fortunate to have my two world’s colliding in this special way.

It was even better that we were invited to the multi-course meal served by a local FFA chapter. My favorite part? The kids came around offering little shot glasses of milk–your choice of chocolate or white.

Below is this week’s column with a little more on the experience, but more about the importance of supporting and energizing efforts to tell our agriculture story. It’s why I do what I do, in a small way “opening the doors” to this place so that you might be able to see how important this land and these animals are to our family and the plates we help fill. Because we all know how food connects us, now let’s connect to our food.

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If we don’t tell our food story, who will?

We sit at kitchen tables, on blankets in the park, around picnic tables at street fairs and on tailgates after a long morning in the field. We crack eggs in our pancake mix while we tell our kids about the time their grandmother baked coffee filters in an early morning batch, her attempt at a legendary April Fool’s joke.

We flip our burgers on shady decks while our friends talk about the time they got lost in Mexico City. We scoop up spoonfuls of peas and choreograph a song and dance routine, complete with a jazz-hand landing to convince our toddler to open her mouth.

We grab a handful of dad’s caramel corn and remember the time spent with him in the kitchen. We’re grateful we paid attention to the recipe so he can live on in the sweet, sticky reminiscence.

No matter where you eat it, food connects us, it reminds us and it’s part of our story. But when was the last time you’ve thought about the story of your food?

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It was a muggy summer evening in western North Dakota and I stood next to my dad under the shade of a grove of tall cottonwood trees along the edge of a beautiful wheat field. We were strumming our guitars and singing about eating watermelon after a summer ballgame as a slow and steady line of community trickled into this farmyard from a makeshift parking lot behind the family shop.

They shook hands, made introductions and wondered what to expect as they walked past beautifully set tables next to grain bins and farm machinery, ready and waiting to celebrate food in a unique way — right where it all starts.

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We hear the phrase “farm-to-table” thrown around these days as a way to make us feel more connected to the food on our plate. On that evening, the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce took it a step further by inviting the community to meet directly with a local family who dedicates their life’s work to growing and caring for the land and the food we eat at their first annual Banquet in a Field event.

Over bites of mini cornbread muffins, lentil dip, sunflower toastettes, oven-roasted potatoes, beef picanha and honey apple cake served by kids from the local FFA chapter, a conversation, centered on North Dakota’s agriculture producers, began.

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And so did the celebration. Because our agriculture story is sometimes harder for us to tell than the story behind our grandmother’s recipe for award-winning chili. The fact that North Dakota is the lead producer of the navy and pinto beans it contains? Well, that’s something I know the Kessel family hosting us that evening was proud of.

And we should be, too. Because if we don’t spread the message and help the world understand that a tomato makes ketchup and that big, beautiful wheat field rolling in the breeze that evening is just a step on a long journey to appearing in the pasta you’ll be serving for your best friends as they reminisce about the time you all ran into the ocean naked, who will?

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The Banquet In a Field Events were the idea of CommonGround, a group of women in agriculture who volunteer to engage and outreach with non-ag consumers. It was started by and continues to be supported through the soybean and corn checkoffs. One of the reasons CommonGround created this event was to build stronger connections between North Dakota consumers and the state’s farmers and ranchers.
Because Banquet In A Field was such a success, the Dickinson Area Chamber Of Commerce Ag Committee is already making plans for next year. The event will be a key community resource, going forward, for those who want to learn more about how agriculture impacts their daily lives. Find out more at dickinsonchamber.org/banquet-in-a-field/

Daddies on their way to work

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Coming Home: Daddies on their way to work
by Jessie Veeder
3-19-17
http://www.inforum.com

I unloaded my daughter and her backpack, and we left the car with the mechanic and sat down on the chairs in the lobby. It smelled like a combination of tire rubber and grease. The sun had warmed the snow enough to make it stick to the rubber soles of the muck boots everyone wears around here, leaving squeaky, muddy footprints to and from the door that dings when it opens…

We live in oil country. It’s been this way since my husband and I moved back to our home turf nearly six years ago. We used to call it a boom. The Wild Wild West. Men arriving from all corners of the country looking for high-paying jobs, some young and single and up for anything, others with families they left in Oklahoma or Arkansas, going back to visit every other two weeks, living in close quarters with other men in trailers, hotel rooms or apartments and sending money back home.

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Watford City, 2014

Add the heavy traffic flow, long lines at the post office and extravagant news stories about crime, safety and how you couldn’t find a woman in the mix with a magnifying glass, and that was the narrative out here.
It’s funny how fast a story can morph into history in a place like this.Funny what a half hour in a Jiffy Lube with a toddler can show you about your community.
I’m married to a man who works in an industry that sends him out into the elements every day to help fuel the world. Along with raising cattle on our ranch, this is his job.
He wears fire retardant jeans, a button-up shirt, a hooded jacket and a ball cap every day, the ultimate uniform of a majority of the working men in this part of the country.
In Edie’s eyes, in Jiffy Lube that day, every man that came through the door for an oil change that day was a daddy. And she was thrilled about it.
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So she hollered “Hi!!” loudly and repeatedly to each of them.Certain that none of them wanted to spend their wait having a conversation with a toddler, I tried to distract her with crackers and a story.”How old is she?” the man across the room asked.”Oh, she’s one,” I replied, reminded then that they’re likely also husbands.”Hhiii!” Edie waved.
“I remember that stage,” he said as Edie dropped down from her seat and did a little twirl on that dirty floor, and soon we were talking about his teenage daughter and her short-lived trombone career, his tech-savvy sons and the wife that moved his family here from the south to be with him.
Because when they talk about their families, history taught me to ask if they’re here together.”Yeah, they’re here,” he said. They’d been here for four years or so. They have a nice place in a new development south of town.”We like it here,” he said. “It feels like home.”
They called his name.
“Have a great day,” I said.”Byyeee,” said Edie.
As he went out, another young guy in the uniform came in. I got up to keep Edie from running down the hall and into the shop.
“How old is she?” He asked.
“I have a 1-year-old boy.”And the same narrative followed.
Our kids will likely be in the same grade, but probably not the same classroom, because there are so many young kids here now. More than a hundred in the current kindergarten class. I’m 33 years old, and I’m older than average in our once aging town, a statistic I was recently made aware of.
And now that I’m thinking of it, it’s pretty clear you no longer need a microscope to find the women here anymore.

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Photo in my mom’s coffeeshop on Main Street. On Saturday, the PTO organized a “Princess” event in honor of the opening of Beauty and the Beast. Countless mommas and princesses attended. It was overwhelming and still surprises a woman like me who grew up in this town when it was 1,200 people with no movie theater. 

It seems we’re invested now, building the new swim team, organizing an arts council, building a new hospital, working alongside all those men they talk about, setting up businesses and young professional organizations. Building a community that will help raise our families.

Taking our toddlers to make friends in Jiffy Lube in a town that went boom and then settled itself quietly, like the dust kicked up behind pickups driven by daddies on their way to work
Main Street, Watford City

Watford City, 2016. Photo by Chad Ziemendorf 

 

Moo.

We’re thawing out a bit out here after a string of frozen days. Looks like the foreseeable future will be quite a few degrees above zero and that lifts our spirits a bit.

I’m ready for spring (and lets, be honest, that Jamaican vacation) and this baby’s ready to get outside and try out her new running skills without the cumbersome giant marshmallow snowsuit I made her wear last week when we went out feeding cows.

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But the kid doesn’t seem to mind. As long as we’re out doing stuff and seeing stuff and chatting about it, she’s happy.

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Feeding cows is a chore she likes to help with. And since the snow has melted a little and we can feed with the pickup instead of the tractor, we can go along again.

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I’ve always loved the way the cows look coming in for feed, in a black (and now some brown) line in the white snow. It’s like moving, breathing art (and hungry) to me.

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Art that says “Moo!”

Hot Dish and Ice Slabs and how to stay warm in the winter

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Coming Home: Hot dish and ice slabs key to staying warm in the winter
by Jessie Veeder
1-22-16
http://www.inforum.com

Northerners. We like to boast that we’re hardy and resilient and can stand up against the biting, sub-zero, blizzardy cold without much consequence besides a bad case of hat head.

We can handle our feet and our pickup tires on icy paths, and we know how to hunker down and make it through on hot dish and hot soup.

We like to say this place isn’t for the faint of heart.

I say these things too, but sometimes while using up a good 40 minutes and all of my back muscles shoveling 200 of the 15,000 pounds of snow off our deck, I start making a list of all of the reasons people live closer to the equator.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now having lived up here for the majority of my life, but the truth is these North Dakota winters have always been hard on me.

The inevitable bitter cold and lack of sunshine starts to convince me that I’m doing all the wrong things in the wrong place and that life is harder and sadder and more desperate than it really is, sending me into a bit of a depression I’m always aware of but have never been successful at curing without help from the weather.

It’s a lonely feeling, but I know I’m not alone in it.

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No matter what we like to say to make ourselves sound tough and resilient I think we all struggle a bit with the deep freeze and endless white of this season. This is what I tell the new residents in my community with southern accents, trudging through the grocery store line in brand new muck boots and knit beanies pulled down over their ears wondering out loud how much colder and how much longer.

I’m not sure it’s hopeful or particularly helpful, but I try to stay as honest as the place that raised me. “It’s cold. It sucks. But we’re all in it together,” I say.

Maybe that’s the key to surviving it, but I think it’s something our ancestors might have been better at, perhaps because they didn’t have a choice between human contact and three billion television shows piped into our living rooms where you can watch other people live their lives in warmer places, like Antarctica or the moon.

But nothing warms your body and lifts your spirits better than living, breathing bodies eating, talking and laughing in a house together.

And lately I’ve been noticing more boots in the entryway and more dishes in the sink, a result of the invites, phone calls and drop-bys that have piled up as family and friends work to beat these winter blues by simply finding ways to be in closer proximity.

Because no matter the plot line, it turns out actually living your life is more interesting than watching pretend people live theirs.

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I suppose that’s what I was thinking when I agreed to be in a weekly curling league, a brand new endeavor organized in my hometown to give the community another cold weather weapon.

Curling is a winter sport that’s been explained as golf on ice, so I have no business being there really, considering it’s a combination of descriptors (ice/golf/sports in general) that have been known to torture me in the past.

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My team consists of my husband, little sister and brother-in-law, and between the four of us, we have about a solid 10 days of actual curling experience, eight of which reside with my husband. But it doesn’t matter, because knowing what we’re doing isn’t the point (although my husband suggested I consider working less on visiting and more on technique).

The point, I think, is the very reason a weird sport that sends you slipping and sliding across the ice yelling “sweep” at your teammates was invented in the first place — because they didn’t have Netflix in the icy tundras of medieval Scotland.

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But, just like us, they had plenty of ice and we might as well use it to get some laughs out of this long, cold season.

Because this place may or may not be for the faint of heart, but maybe by spring I can add curling to the list of reasons people chose North Dakota over Texas.

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A heavy dose of escape…

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Yesterday afternoon, when Husband came home from work I escaped.

Yeah. I said it. Escaped. That’s the right word.  Some days around here are easier than others, and I think this baby is getting more teeth God help me, so I left her, and the man who helped make her, to it.

And I headed to the badlands.

Because I hadn’t been there in a while. Because  I was feeling overwhelmed in this house that’s never going to be baby proof enough. Because being a mom is hard sometimes.

Being a work from home mom to a baby who just learned to crawl is nearly impossible.

Because I needed some inspiration. A good breath. A minute.

Because it was a beautiful night and I didn’t want to miss out on it.

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The badlands are right in our backyard and the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is about a 45 mile drive from the ranch, but if I were a bird it wouldn’t take me nearly as long to fly there along the river.

I wished I was a bird yesterday evening as I drove through the park slowly with the windows open watching the rain clouds build up on the horizon, wondering how long it might pour on me and this landscape that has nothing to do but soak up the sky.

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Then I was feeling sort of bummed about it, about the rain. Like, finally I get out here and I won’t get the light bouncing off the buttes. I won’t get a sunset. I won’t get the great shadows the sun creates in the canyons. I won’t get to see it in all its late summer glory.

I won’t get what I want out of this little trip.

And I was right. I didn’t get what I wanted.

I got more.

Because just before the sky let loose a smattering of rain on a girl standing in the long grass, hair whipping across my face, a rainbow appeared like they tend to do out of nowhere and it stayed long enough for me get to know it a bit.

And to shake the boulder that unexplainably had been sitting heavy on my shoulders for the last few days.

img_3193img_3200img_3264img_3282img_3296img_3380img_3346img_3364img_3324img_3328Sometimes you don’t know what you need. And that’s ok.

But sometimes you do and you don’t take it. And that’s not ok.

I was reminded of that last night. Because I almost didn’t take the drive out there. I felt a little guilty about it. Like I should stay home and cook supper. Like it was going to be too late and the house was a mess. Like I had lots of work I could get done after the baby went down for the night. Like I was so tired.

But I went. I went because I wanted to. I went because it wasn’t asking much.

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Taking moments to exist in this wild space has always my best therapy. My best drug. And I got a heavy dose last night.

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And I’ve learned a heavy dose of escape makes the return so much sweeter…

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When the mist lifts off the doubt of motherhood

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Coming Home: Mist lifts off the doubt new mom feels
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

It’s morning. The mist has settled in the valleys of this countryside like a heavy, cool blanket that promises to dissolve in the sun. Dad just sent me a photo from the hayfield, a canvas of pink, gold and green poking up from the fog as he bales up the grass and alfalfa nice and tight for the winter.

I didn’t know that about motherhood. I didn’t realize how fragmented and scattered a day can become, a little paradoxical considering 100 percent of that day is dedicated to keeping a tiny person content and alive.

The other 90 percent is spent bending over to pick stuff up.

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Which leaves no time left for math and just a few slivers here and there to get work done. Or wash a dish. Or take care of the gray roots coming from my 3-month-old dye job.

And this is where I am now. Looking for the balance in being a work-from-home mom, quickly realizing that the word “balance” should not have been invented, because it does not exist, not in the way we all dream it anyway.

Last week I had a performance in a small town in the middle of the week. My husband has been arriving home from his full-time job in the evening to help Dad get the hay crop put up between rain storms and broken down equipment, so I loaded up the baby, my niece and my guitar in the big pickup, leaving his evening free for work, because turns out dads are searching for that balance-myth, too.

I stood up there behind that microphone and in front of a small crowd that gathered for hamburgers and music on a Wednesday night, telling stories and singing songs while my niece tried to shush our baby who was babbling and screeching happily in her arms. I looked over at her while I sang words written long before she was born and was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that this is my life now.

And then, in between songs, I found myself explaining the fear I had about it all.

Because, if you remember, I had a lot of time—time to convince myself I was ready, and time, when it didn’t work out, to talk myself out of the whole motherhood thing entirely.

Because I was worried about that balance thing. I was worried I couldn’t be me and be a mom, too. I was worried I wouldn’t have the energy for music or writing or bigger aspirations should I feel so motivated.

And in a way I was right. I am not who I was before this child became mine. Because before her I didn’t know what it meant to be frazzled and content at the same time.

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Like in the two hours I’ve been working on this piece I’ve changed her diaper, gotten her dressed, fed her milk, snuggled her, kissed her, watched her play, fed her avocados, snuggled her again, changed her again and put her down to play while working sentence by sentence and wishing I would have woken up at 5 a.m. like I planned last night.

I likely won’t finish this until she goes down for her mid-morning nap.

Before the baby, leaving something undone would have driven me crazy. These days most things are left to be finished later. I didn’t know I could be fine with that.

And there are about a million more examples like that, most of them involving the common denominator named time. Because I’m no longer carefree with it, not in the way that I was before Edie.

To be away from her better be worth it.

Sometimes it is.

And sometimes the best part is taking her along, looking out into the crowd and seeing her there, fitting snug and happy in the life that I built, arms outstretched, head turned up and laughing, the mist lifting off the doubt, revealing more colors than I could have dreamed.

 

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Everybody’s Baby…

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“How’s everybody’s baby doing?”

That’s what the Mayor of my hometown asked me at a community meeting last night.

Only in a small town would the Mayor (who is also a family friend) be so genuinely interested in the newest member of the community.

He was about the twentieth person to inquire about our little one that night. Business owners, column readers, classmates, old teachers, cops, waitresses, bankers, and so on and so on asked about her, because that’s what it’s like when you live in a small town.

Your baby is everyone’s baby.

I’m sure my friend who had a baby a few weeks after me had the same experience that evening.

Her baby is everyone’s baby too.

And while every mom documents her kids’ to an extent, I couldn’t help but be reminded last night just how reported Edie’s little life story actually is.

Because I’m a writer. A blogger.

And a newspaper columnist.

Which is not something I think about weekly, because I don’t want to induce a sorry case of writer’s block, but the words I write go out to half a dozen newspapers all across the state every week. Take that and add it to the support I get from you loyal readers on this trusty blog, and, well, Edie’s story has a substantial fan base that dates back to a time we didn’t think we’d ever meet her.

Yes, every week I get emails from people rooting for us, cheering us on, sending love and prayers and positive energy and sharing their own stories of what it was like to be parents to a baby as wiggly and wild.

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Those thousands of people read about her birth, her first smile, her large shoe collection and her big farts…

(Oh, she’s just going to hate me when she’s a teenager…)

And while I know this baby is loved by me and my husband and all this family that surrounds us, I can’t tell you how overwhelming it is to realize that she is loved by so many others.

Maybe it was the energy in the room at a party dedicated to celebrating how far this community has come in the last year, despite the boom and in the face of a current and unforeseen oil slowdown. Maybe it was the fact that I was out doing my job again knowing that my baby was snuggled up at the ranch with my husband while I drank wine and chatted with familiar and new faces, but the mayor’s comment hit me in the heart last night, and got me thinking.

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To be everybody’s baby. I wonder when she’ll realize it? Growing up in a small rural community you sort of take it for granted that there are caring eyes pointed at you at all times. You feel secure in knowing that the stands are full of your supporters at a football game, or a spelling bee, or your first choir concert. And if your parents are late in picking you up after a 4-H meeting (not that that’s ever happened to me dad…) in a small town you get to not worry, because it will be ok. There will be someone there to wait with you, because in a way you’re their kid too.

Edie has so much love and support here for many reasons, being the 5th generation community member and a child of a columnist are a few, and I am so happy that this is true for her. That she’s everyone’s baby.

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But last night we reflected on how our town was getting bigger. We just completed and opened a new multi-million dollar high school. And despite the oil slowdown, families are still moving here with their young children. And as the elementary school classes grow and new babies are born to this now young community, I can only hope that the love and support we feel as new parents to one of the youngest members is not exclusive to us.

This isn’t a new concept. It’s the traditional “It takes a village” mentality. But just because it takes a village, doesn’t mean everyone always gets one.

I hope we’re doing a good job out here. I think that’s what everyone in that room was hoping for last night. I know it’s one of the biggest concerns we had as a community watching our town boom from twelve hundred people to somewhere closer to ten thousand in the last five years. We didn’t want to let go of our small town spirit. We wanted to fight for the ability to not lose one another in a crowd.

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The kids in this community today are different than we were growing up. Many weren’t born here to parents who were born here. In fact, it seems it’s more common to be the new kid in town these days than to have roots here.

More languages are spoken, more perspectives are given, there are more miles driven to see the grandparents and more new names to learn. But I hope none of that makes a difference when it comes to missing the bus or forgetting your practice clothes for basketball or having to keep the library open just a few minutes longer because your mom was stuck at a meeting and couldn’t get to you in time.

As a new parent to a new kid in town, I can only hope that, regardless of how big this boomtown gets, each kid gets the chance to take for granted that she or he is every body’s baby.

And I would venture to guess that everyone in that room, the Mayor included, feels the same way.

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Sunday Column: My mom’s coffeeshop

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My mom owns a clothing store in town. She has for a few years now. And while I don’t work there, I reap the benefits of popping in to get my hands on what’s new and accompanying her to market in boring places like Las Vegas where there is an entire event center dedicated to only shoes.

It’s a tough job. But I’m happy to do what I can to assist.

Growing up in a house with two sisters and a fashonista mother, clothes and “what we’re going to wear today?” is a regularly addressed topic.

So we’re all right at home weighing in on her business.

But now I’ve gotta tell you, as happy I am about having a 24/7 solution to my wardrobe issues, I’m even more excited about my crazy mother’s new endeavor.

Because it involves the #3 love of my life (behind Edie and my Husband).

Her name is coffee.

And my mom has opened a shop dedicated to it.

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Yup. Right next door to her boutique. So you can find an outfit for your big date and then head next door to grab a latte and talk all about it.

Or a chai tea.

Or a smoothie.

Or a mocha.

Or a cappuccino.

Or a caramel macchiato. That’s a thing too.

Turns out coffee is more complicated than finding the right jean size, but I’m willing to try. Because trying means sampling and all those long drives to and from town has helped me develop a high caffeine tolerance, and for that, I am grateful.

Congratulations crazy Momma.

And if you’re ever in good ‘ol Watford City, stop by Door 204 for a cup!

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Coming Home: Mom’s entrepreneurial drive inspiring
by Jessie Veeder
1-25-16
http://www.inforum.com

My mom turned 60 at the beginning of this month.

We couldn’t celebrate on Saturday because she was in town, working on plans for the building she bought on Main Street that she’s turning into a coffee shop.

So now she’s trying to find him a girlfriend.

Because when my mom believes in something, she doesn’t give up.

Lord help you if you’re the someone or something she believes in. She’ll give you the shirt off her back, a job when there’s no openings or the last brownie in the pile on her kitchen counter.

And so here she is learning about the coffee business when most women her age are thinking about retiring and moving to Florida.

When I ask my mom about this elusive retirement, she says, “Well what would I do? I can’t just hang around here making brownies all day. I don’t have any hobbies.”

So she’s going to hang around Main Street Watford City to make coffee and help keep this small town dressing well. If you added a dance studio and a wine bar in the back, you would have all of my mom’s favorite things in one place.

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And while she might not crochet baby beanies or take photos of wildflowers, the “no hobby” thing isn’t true at all. She just seems to have turned her love for people and shopping into a business. Come to think of it, after witnessing her energy and enthusiasm for new challenges, I wouldn’t be surprised if on her 61st birthday she added that wine bar after all.

As it turns out, the woman’s always had an entrepreneurial and creative mind, one that she’s been honing since opening a day care/dance class business in her backyard when she was in fifth grade.

I doubt that fifth-grade ballerina would have guessed she would grow up to marry a cowboy and wind up raising kids on a ranch 30 miles from the nearest grocery store. I mean, when she moved out here she didn’t even know how to drive on a hill.

But she did it. And while ranching wasn’t in her wheelhouse, she brought her wheelhouse to town teaching aerobics and dance class. And then, when she took a full-time job, she taught those classes in the evenings.

Because at that time, there wasn’t a plethora of jobs to choose from in small-town Watford City, so my mom made her way, eventually landing a career she held for years working from a home office and traveling across the state, until about three years ago when a change in the company inspired her to look for a change in herself.

And the clothing store on Main Street was up for sale, so she took the leap and put her entrepreneurial spirit to use again, finding her way back to her creative place after years of putting it second to the needs of her family.

And so it seems with one idea comes another, and she’s got her momentum now.

And I’m proud of her. Proud that she’s finding success, yes, but more so breaking through the walls of a notion that there’s a time limit on potential or passion or dreams.

It’s something I’ve wondered about in my unconventional career as a musician and writer. I wondered how it might fit in later in my life, especially in my new role as a mother.

But I look at my mom bringing home samples of coffee beans, reading up on latte technique and ordering coffee house furniture as she celebrates a new decade of her life with a new challenge, and she motivates me. Not just to work hard and do what I need to do for my family, but also with her example that, whether you’re 10 or 60, if you fuel the flame, life can continue to inspire you.

 

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Sunday Column: The “what if’s” in Boomtown

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My husband and I moved back to the ranch more than five years ago. If you’ve been following along here, you’ve likely seen how much has changed, and how much hasn’t, at the ranch, in our family and in our community.

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We moved back for a few reasons. Number one was because it is where we wanted to settle down and raise a family, but the number two reason made it possible–the economy was booming due to the oil and gas industry and seemingly overnight there were more jobs and more opportunity than our small town could keep a tally on.
The results have been unprecedented growth for our small town that was once only 1,200 people and now boasts a population that is seemingly uncountable due to fluctuations and many people living in temporary housing situations. My guess is we’re likely close to 8,000 people today.

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Our small town that never had a stop light, now has many. We have a sort of suburban sprawl happening with new apartment buildings and housing units going up. We have Main Street bars and a sushi restaurant. We have little strip malls. A big grocery store. A nice daycare, a brand new high school and multi-million dollar community and event center going up, with two indoor ice slabs and a couple pools. We’re working on a new hospital and clinic.
Everything that once was is now updated, expanded and improved upon, including our roads.
When oil prices were at $100 a barrel we worked on playing catch up because the entire country was moving in.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.16.56 PMAnd now we’re planning for the future in a time we knew could come, a slow down due to lower oil prices.  We’re in a sort of eerie place where we can catch up, not realizing how we’ve gotten used to such a fast pace until there’s a shift.
In the new year I think we all wish we could see into the future, knowing that all we can do is believe in and trust in today. And today it seems like despite what looks sort of grim, my community is showing it’s a little beacon of light and hope on this cold prairie.
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by Jessie Veeder
1-17-16
Forum Communications

It’s been more than five years since my husband and I unloaded our hand-me-down furniture into the little brown ranch house in the barnyard where my dad grew up, fulfilling our dream of moving home, because unlike the economy the two of us grew up in during the ’80s and ’90s, there were jobs.

Everyone talks about how the oil boom seemed to happen overnight, but when you’re living among it, that sense of immediacy is only partially true.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of “what-if” that sits alongside “could it be true?” in your mind as you wonder about the alleged oil well that promises to pop up on the hill behind the house.

It seems like it could never happen, until one day you wake up and there it is.

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That’s how it’s been for the past five years around here in western North Dakota. Not believing and then believing — that there would be a stoplight in town, a four-lane highway to Williston, a fast-food restaurant, a brand new high school, dozens of new apartment buildings and so on and so on until you find yourself used to the stoplights, sushi and Southern accents surrounding you.

The “if you build it they will come” mentality wasn’t as much the case here in this once 1,200-person town. No, it was more of the “they have come so let’s do what we can to make it work better.”

And so we made time for the extra traffic, the long lines and construction detours, and have come to expect events and restaurants filled to capacity with people of all ages, races and backgrounds, our new little melting pot on the western edge of the state.

We knew it would slow down eventually, that the four new hotels that were built wouldn’t be filled to the brim every week with working residents, and instead we would have to find a way to fill them with guests.

We knew that we wouldn’t always have to make reservations for supper.

We knew that oil wouldn’t stay at $100 a barrel, and that we might get a chance to take a breath someday and catch up, even though the thought was both terrifying and relieving.

Because we knew what it was like to have our quiet and slow life interrupted, but maybe we didn’t realize how quickly we could get used to a new normal, a fast pace of planning hectic moment to hectic moment.

But that hectic moment has slowed for a bit now and, as oil prices have slid, adjustments have been made.

Is the boom over?

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That’s a question every news source and coffee conversation wants answered.

I’m not sure if anyone knows. Just like nobody seemed to know exactly what was coming five years ago. I read a different dramatic report, opinion and prediction every day.

But here’s what I know to be true for us: Oil prices have changed, but the sense of “what-if” coupled with “could it be true?” has not.

We have never settled into a sense of security in such fast-paced growth. Instead, we have remained committed to keep steady in our own plan to figure out how to stay here at the family’s ranch for the long run.

And I’ll tell you, it’s been much easier with better jobs and more opportunity at our fingertips. But along with that, for whatever challenges we continue to face, what our community has become in the wake of the boom has made this an easier and exciting place to live in many ways.

And for that we have been grateful.

I think that realization might be the case for most people who, after coming here for the work, have decided to make this place their permanent home now. Because of the jobs, yes, but also because, like us, they see a future here.

And it’s because of those people it seems our new population is remaining more steady than predicted. Yes, people are losing jobs and families are moving away, but businesses are also still hiring and new residents still seem to see the value in a community that has moved from building to keep up with the present into building for a future we want for our families.

For more information on Watford City and McKenzie County, and for other perspectives on Boomtown Living visit: 
www.mckenziecounty.net
www.voicesofwatford.com
www.oilgoesboom.com
www.boomtowndiaries.com 
www.beautifulbakken.com 

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