When life reminds you

Here is a little video (probably one that falls in the category of one of those things that only my family and I will find so adorable) of Edie walking to the pool with her daddy.

We went to the big town sort of spontaneously to visit one of our friends who just had a new baby and get some Christmas shopping done. And we stayed in a hotel so that the baby could go in the pool. She loves the pool. These are the thing we do for our children that I never thought I would do for my children. Like squeeze my pasty winter body into a bathing suit right smack in the middle of the holidays and then go out in public (in bad lighting) like that in the name of watching a baby splash and squeal with her dad for twenty minutes.

It was a quick trip, we didn’t sleep at all in that hotel, and we didn’t really get much Christmas shopping done, but it was fun. It’s fun to be out and about with this little family thinking about and picking out gifts for the people we love.

These are the little things I often take for granted.

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These are the things that run through my head in those brief reminders life gives us about how it could all be taken away…

Coming Home: A reminder to slow down, be thankful
by Jessie Veeder
12-4-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I was downstairs trying my best to finish up a deadline I’d been working on submitting all day. It was the Monday after a long Thanksgiving break spent with family and food scattered around the house for days.

The baby was so worn out from the excitement of it all that she decided to stop sleeping and pop her first molar, and I was ready to get back into the swing of things.

Things like getting this very important grant sent off before the deadline, a simple wrap-up made entirely more complex when done in the moments before and after the baby decided she needed to be held, fed, rocked, read to, sung to or saved from the stairs.

It was 5:30 or so, the weatherman was telling me about the snow that had been accumulating by the inches since I woke up that morning, blowing, drifting and piling up, and it wasn’t expected to quit.

And just as fast as Edie went from across the room to by my side helping me type on my laptop keyboard, it went from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

“No, no, no,” I said to her.

“No, no, no,” she said back to me, shaking her head and laughing.

“Seriously, kid. Give me five minutes,” I whined.

She whined back and threw her cup to the ground.

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“Ugh, where’s your dad?!” I asked in frustration before I really thought about it.

And then I thought about it.

It was getting dark. I called him over an hour ago to find out when to expect him for supper.

“I have some leftover cream we need to use up,” I said as I saved the baby’s life for the 50th time that day. “I’m gonna make knoephla.”

“Ok,” he said. “I’m on my way home.”

And he should have been home by now. Like a long time ago.

“Seriously though baby, where’s your dad?” I sighed as I put her in her high chair. A little wave of panic overcame me. I picked up my cell phone and called him for the answer.

Only he didn’t answer.

He always answers.

My heart started pounding as I quickly ran through all the circumstances in my head, looking out the window at a darkening sky against a road totally void of headlights.

The wind splattered snow against the side of the house, and I spooned some stuffing in my baby’s mouth, wondering if her dad was in a ditch somewhere. Wondering if I should load her up to go out looking for him, flashing forward, in a matter of minutes, to that worst case scenario we all think won’t happen to us until it happens to us.

Is it happening to us?

I paced the floor and searched my mind for a different explanation for his absence. This wasn’t the first time I’ve found myself a bit panicked. Plans run late, tires go flat, neighbors need help, pickups go in ditches, but out here alone in the night with miles of snow-covered county road between me and the answer, the whole not-knowing thing can escalate into something more daunting and lonesome in a hurry if you let it.

And each minute you’ve convinced yourself there’s a chance he’s not safe is helpless anguish, and suddenly the last words you spoke to one another come to you in waves and it’s all very dramatic in the very likely case that he’s just fine, probably at the barn or pulling someone out of the ditch.

I grabbed the baby and started the car and walked back inside for my gloves.

And then the phone rang.

I try to take vows to be grateful. I’m not always grateful. I try to live in the moment, but I’m often distracted. Many days the person I love the most gets the worst of me.

But every once in a while, if we listen, we might get little reminders to slow down and be thankful — for the deadlines, for the whining, for the leftover stuffing, for the whole mess.

I stirred cream in the soup and listened to my husband talk to our baby as she splashed in the bath while the wind whipped the snow up our dark country road.

“I’ve been reminded,” I whispered.

OK. I’ve been reminded.

 

My attempt at winter.

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Oh my gosh you guys we got a lotta snow out here the past few days.

In a blink of an eye it turned from Thanksgiving to Christmas and I haven’t been out of the house since Sunday.

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I’ve been home with the baby and then, the past two days, Husband brought her in town to play at daycare and I’ve been hunkered down at my laptop trying my damnedest to finish this book project, which means I’ve been combing through the archives of the past five years of blogging, column writing and photo taking, trying to pick my favorites and make it all make sense together and generally going crazy and becoming completely sick of myself.

So before the sun set I decided to go outside to see what I could see and get this stink off of me.

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Husband said the road up and out of the house was pretty bad, but that he got after it with the tractor last night and cleared it up a bit more, so I was feeling confident I could help him finish the chore he didn’t get to last night (or last weekend before the storm hit like we should have done), which was moving the 4-wheelers into the big garage in the barn yard.

No problem.

But first I needed my hat, cloves, boots, neckerchief and coveralls, which were upstairs in the garage in a bin where, apparently, judging by the evidence of hair, the cat sleeps.

No problem. A little cat hair never hurt anything.

Now, time to start the 4-wheeler. But first, I need a shovel to brush the foot of snow off, and also, maybe dig a little trail behind it to help it get unstuck.

No problem. Started right up. Pulled right out, drove down the road along the snow trail Husband cut with his pickup this morning and I was toot-tooting right along until…ugh…what’s that smell?…stop.

Sniff my coat.

Sniff my glove.

Sniff my hand.

Sniff my coveralls.

Sniff my coveralls again…

Smells like cat piss.

The cat pissed on my coveralls.

I was wearing cat piss coveralls. A perfect outfit for failing my five attempts at making it through the snow and up the hill and out of our driveway to get to the big shop in the barnyard.

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So me and my cat piss coveralls brought it back home to get the pickup and, still trying to be helpful and avoid going back to my computer, I drove the pickup to the shop so Husband could drive it home when he figured out a way to easily get that 4-wheeler out of the yard and into the shop, finishing my half-assed attempt at getting a chore done like usual.

I don’t know how he’ll feel about his pickup being parked there, but it’s too late now. I walked home and left it for him anyway, me and my stink cloud trailing behind me, hitting some snow banks that had me crawling on my hands and knees to get out, successfully completing enough exercise to at least get me through the rest of December.

Now I’m home and my lungs are burning, my back is sweating, my cheeks are frozen, my book’s still not done and getting the stink off me failed in more than way than one.

But if I hurry I might get myself a full shower, leg shave and everything, before the baby gets home.

So that’s something.

Peace, Love and Cat Pee Pants,

Jessie

The cow feeding ritual…

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Dad retired last week from his job as Economic Development Director in McKenzie County. He’s been in that position for 24 years. He retired so he could run for County Commissioner. And he was elected. And so he’s not really retiring from his position as a community leader, actually, he’s just going to lead in other ways. And also, he’s taking another job.

So I’m not sure my parents will ever retire really, for both of them their work is so closely tied to their hearts.

I wrote this after we threw dad  little party to celebrate one chapter ending and another one beginning. So many of his friends, family and colleagues stopped by, even more wrote to wish him well.

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And it turns out he didn’t take a day to rest or relax like I was hoping when I wrote this column. He had a couple meetings to round out the week he spent packing up his office.

But he did, like he always does, take some time for the cattle, the other job he’s been in for his entire life. The one he’ll likely never retire from.

Oh, and he also always finds an excuse to knock on the door to check in on us…

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Coming Home: Feeding cows memorable in so many ways
by Jessie Veeder
11-20-16
http://www.inforum.com

Outside, up out of our driveway next to the gravel county road, a couple pyramids of hay bales are stacked up nice and neat, waiting to be unrolled on the cold hard ground for the cows that we will be feeding this winter.

It’s a ritual that goes along with keeping cows around here through the months of November (or October if winter comes early) and on into April or May or until the grass comes back. It’s just one of the winter ranching chores that goes along with keeping the water open, the tractors running, the roads and trails clear of snow and mastering the art of doing it all while wearing seventeen layers of winter clothing.

When I was growing up we had cattle every winter. And every evening after my dad came home from his work in town, often after the sun had gone down, I would bundle up in my coveralls and beanie, and sit beside him in the feed pickup as he rolled out bales for the cows.

It was one of my favorite chores for a lot of reasons. The pickup had heat, so that was one of them. I got to sit bundled up and watch the cows come in from the hills in a nice straight, black line.

When we would feed cake or grain, I got to drive the pickup while dad shoveled it out the back. He would put it in low and release the clutch and tell me to keep it out of the trees. My nose would barely reach over the steering wheel, but I felt helpful and I liked it.

And I liked the way the hay smelled when it unrolled from the back of the pickup, like it had kept some summer underneath its layers. There’s something about an everyday chore like this that is sort of comforting. Maybe it’s the knowing that you’re a necessary part of the order of things. Knowing that you’re responsible.

It’s the taking care I think.

Last week we celebrated dad’s retirement from 24 years as the county’s economic development director, a job he was passionate about, one that had him helping to problem solve in the slow times when people were moving away from this community and troubleshooting during boom times when it seemed like the entire country was moving in and looking for their place here.

It was a stressful and rewarding career, one that he’s not necessarily done with as he’s moving on to similar work, but it’s one that often kept him up at night or late in town at meetings. And so, for most of my life, he’s had that job and he’s had the ranch and the work that needed to be done to keep things running, in different ways throughout the years, sometimes late in the evening, or in the early mornings and always on the weekends.

Since moving back to the ranch almost five years ago, my husband and I have been trying to learn as much as we can from him about what it looks like and how to function as full time working people who also run cattle. I told him I had no idea how hard it must have been for my mom and dad when I was growing up and riding along with him, often feeding cows in the cold and in the dark when he made it home from work. I never knew because he never made it look like work.

My parents didn’t complain because this is the life they wanted and agreed on.

I get that, although I probably complain more.

Monday was dad’s official first day in 24 years that he didn’t wake up as the county’s economic development director. He has a month or so before he settles into his new professional role, so I was hoping he’d take a minute to relax and take a breath.

I pulled out of my driveway and up past the hay yard and down the county road, heading east for work and there was dad, in the late morning chill of November, dressed in his wool cap and Carhart coat driving his feed pickup, unrolling a hay bale, spending the first day of retirement, feeding cows.

 

 

 

 

Unpredictable January

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The end of January is here and I think I can speak for most North Dakotans when I say, “Whew.”

It’s a tough month up north, full of unpredictable and freezing weather, long evenings and short days and lots of reasons to eat soup and heavy carbs, no matter what you said in your New Years Resolution about eating better.

We’re not meant to eat lettuce in the deep freeze of January. It’s not natural.

We’re meant to hibernate and hunker down. And that’s what I’ve been doing.

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I’ve spent more days consecutively in the house this January than ever before in my life. Except maybe when I was a newborn myself.

I’m so used to running around, playing music late at night, heading to meetings or wandering outside on a whim that this hiding out has been a big adjustment.

Never mind that I’m hanging out with a brand new tiny little person we made.

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Yes, when you live out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter, the whole getting out of the house thing takes way more effort. There’s no such thing as a quick trip anywhere, except maybe to the changing table.

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So I leave the grocery shopping to my husband, which I’ve found to be one of the major perks of hanging home with a newborn.

That and hanging in my stretchy pants all day.

What’s not so fun? Daytime television and trying to work with a baby who doesn’t nap much or for very long.

But she smiles a lot when she’s awake, so it’s worth it.

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And when we do get out of the house, we go visit the other babies on the ranch.

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Or, on the weekends, I leave Edie to rock with her daddy and I take a wander, get some fresh air in my lungs, swing my arms without a baby in them and walk the big dogs.

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Last week Edie had her two month appointment and with each of her little milestones I’m reminded that time ticks so quickly.

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Last winter I was in Nashville.

Next winter I will be chasing a one year old around in the snow.

 

Turns out the ever predictable January has proven that, in some ways, she’s not so predictable after all.

And I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

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Outside. Inside.

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January’s a good month to have an excuse to stay inside with a baby.

All the snuggling, singing and miles put on pacing and bouncing the burps out in front of the fireplace is as good of an activity as any when the thermometer registers well below zero.

And while I love it, I am also restless. Having spent every other winter of my life able to bundle up and hit the trail or the road on a whim sometimes sends me pressing my nose up against the window.

The light is already starting to linger longer, and this baby is already starting to hold her head up and make little noises, but I find myself daydreaming about smushing her leg rolls into a little swimming suit and hitting the beaches of the big lake this summer.

And that’s a rough daydream, because I already think she’s growing up too fast.

So in an attempt to beat cabin fever and to force myself to stay in the moment, last weekend Husband held down the fort and the pacifier and I made a plan to trek out and about around the barnyard, ignoring the fact that it was literally -20 with the windchill or something like that.

I would just stay in the low parts of the place, avoid the wind and try to squeeze my fat ass into my long underwear, under sweat pants, under snow pants I could barely button up.

I just needed to take a tally of all of the frost, put a flush in my cheeks and sweat a bit.

Because while I have a new role now as a mom, there are things I know about myself that help keep me balanced.

I need to go outside. It’s imperative for me to remain the best version of myself.

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So I did.

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And I froze my face off.

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And came in after only about fifteen minutes.

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Happy to know that all was as it should be in January.

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Frosty and freezing…

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Windy and white…

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And pretty in a middle-of-winter sort of way.

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And it felt good to be frozen, only to warm up…

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with a warm fire and the best stuff waiting for me inside.

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A Winter Walk…

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It has been a true winter wonderland around here lately. Lots of fog and warm temperatures have coated everything in frost.

And then it rained. And froze immediately on the ground, so now this place looks like Ice World on the Super Mario Brothers III game and the animals and me took a slippery stroll through it all, because who could stay inside on days like these?

Not me. And you shouldn’t either.

So welcome to your Wednesday Walk…

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Sunday Column: Being human

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Winter showed up again this weekend. It was to be expected.

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We watched the snow blow sideways across the sky and into the black trees.

I hunkered down on the loveseat next to my husband under the furry blanket and we watched “Legends of the Fall.” And then, as I do every time we watch our favorite movie, I got depressed about the plight of man. It was sort of fitting though, because it’s been on my mind for the last few weeks, the sort of struggle we face here, how even when we do our best, sometimes it isn’t good enough. Sometimes no matter how we wish and hope and pray and work, it just doesn’t work out the way we had imagined. We’ve all been there. Husband and I have been spending time talking about this lately, about people’s stories, about the news of the world and our community and how it’s hard to get facts straight these days, how it’s hard to distinguish opinions from the truth and how sometimes it’s a struggle to find any positive perspectives.

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I worry that we’re getting disconnected from reality.

I worry that we stare at our cell phones and our television screens and we live our lives through photos and commentary instead of observing and wondering and speaking for ourselves.

I worry not enough people in this great country get their hands truly dirty or understand what it really takes to put food in our mouths.

I worry that we’re not spending enough time talking to each other and too much time talking at one another.

And then I worry that we’re not listening.

I worry that we’re getting harder instead of stronger…

IMG_0210 These are things I say over lasagna at our kitchen counter with the news turned low on the television and a long winter night stretching out before us.

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And then Husband reminds me that we are animals, animals who were somehow born with the ability to love and the ability to hate…and this gift of language and reason and religion and philosophy complicates and pulls at our simple instinct to survive.

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The coyotes who howl outside my window at night and get a little too close to the house in the morning. these animals don’t know good or evil. They know danger. They know motherly instinct. They know what they need to know to survive. What a gift and what a burden it is some days to be human. To feel somehow responsible to these coyotes and to the landscape, to the cattle who feed there and to the people we know…and those we never will.

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When I was a young girl, growing up and starting to realize that life wasn’t always a frolic in the oak trees, that most days your responsibilities were going to weigh on you, and that was what it meant to grow up, I remember wishing that I was one of those cows standing out in our pasture munching on green grass and knowing nothing different. Knowing no deadlines, or dirty dishes piled up, or the dull ache of your mistakes or the pain of losing someone.
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I just wanted to be a cow. Well, maybe a cow in California where the weather never dropped below 70 degrees and sunny. Or a snapping turtle sunning himself on the rock in the beaver dam out back, the one who lived for a hundred years, and spent the winter sleeping.

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Or the house cat sitting on mom’s lap concerned with nothing but getting a scratch behind the ears.

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Because I knew it then, as I know it now. Some days the business of being human is overwhelming, and being that muley doe coming in for a drink at the dam at the end of a week-long January thaw looks about as close to peace as you’ve ever seen while living life in your human skin…

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Coming Home: Promises made as we look toward spring
by Jessie Veeder
2-1-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Sunday Column: Thousands of miles away…


January is a tough month for us here in North Dakota. It’s smack in the middle of winter. It’s generally the coldest, the days are the shortest and the holidays are behind us…ahead of us? More winter.

To combat the January blues this year we decided to to break free before the New Year and ring it in somewhere warmer, somewhere that didn’t look anything like the rolling, white and brown ice colored hills and bare trees of the winter landscape at home.

So we packed up our swimming suits and our vacation hats, gathered our friends and headed to Mexico.

On a real vacation. One that wasn’t attached to some sort of work I had to do. (Which is typically the types of vacations Husband and I do).

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I told you about it a bit, I showed you the juxtaposition of it all in a slideshow of contrasting photos of bare skin and snowsuits.

But there was more to say about it I think. More to say about a chance to break free for a moment…

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It’s funny how a few days in a world so different, so far away from our own, sort of pulls you out of place, your own place, sweeps you off your feet, widens your eyes and lets down your hair.

But it wasn’t long before I started wondering what it might be like to really live there, on a place that touches the ocean. A place where cactuses stretch their arms to the sky and the wind blows sea salt and sand up on the shore, a place with sea fisherman instead of oil men.

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Who would I be here in this sand, under this sun? What would I love?

What would I do?

Coming Home: Finding yourself thousands of miles from home
Jessie Veeder
1-18-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

This week I’m back in Nashville, working on finishing up the new album. I’ll spend my days listening to instruments–dobros and guitars, fiddles and harmonies, fill up the spaces in my songs, songs about work and worry and love and landscape.

Songs about horses and home.

And I will sing and sing and sing to get every word right.

That’s the work I’ll do this week, hundreds and hundreds of miles from the buttes and the place that raised me…and I am so grateful for it.

We’re not in Cabo anymore…

We’re not in Cabo anymore.

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Nope.

photo 2We’re home.

Home to the great white and frickin’ frozen north.

You know what that weather report up there doesn’t say? It doesn’t say that the wind is blowing 50 MPH, making the air feel like it’s actually -30.

Which would mean when I got on the plane in Cabo on Tuesday morning and landed in Bismarck, North Dakota on Tuesday night, my body was asked to deal with a nearly 100 degree temperature difference.

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CABO!

NOT Cabo.

I can’t help but feel the shock of the juxtaposition that was the result of a couple plane rides …

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CABO!

NOT Cabo.

But oh, we had a nice trip. We wore vacation hats.

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We got some sun our our pasty white skin. We played beach volleyball and drank ridiculous drinks,

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we swam in the ocean,

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and rang in the new year in a blur of tequila and club music.

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And while we were doing those things, the wind was whipping in a cold front up north, as it tends to do in January.

But you know what they do in January in Cabo? They ride horses in shorts and bare feet on the beach.

Yup.

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CABO HORSES.

NOT Cabo horses.

Dammit, it’s cold here. No more vacation hats for us.

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Beach Couple

Arctic Tundra Couple

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White Sandy Shoreline  

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Just a white line

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Cabo Husband.

Freezing Husband.

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Cabo couple

Umm,  no…
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Cabo Cactus

Not a Cabo Cactus 

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30 below zero and windy sisters

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Vacation feet.  

Not on vacation anymore feet

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Warm weather pet

Jessie and Dogs

A more snuggly version

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A beachy drink

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A blizzard-y drink

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A walk on the beach

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Ah, son of a beettchh…

And that’s it. No, we’re not in Cabo anymore boys and girls…

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But we’re not beach people really.

We’re pale and pasty northerners with a large collection of wool socks. And we’re home.

And no matter what the sky is doing in Mexico, or Jamaica, or Sunny California,  it’s always good to be here.

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