The Honeymoon is Over When a Packrat Eats Your Floor

Pack rats look like hamsters’ big adorable cousins, but they wreak havoc on a trailer house. (Image from animacenter.org)

The following tale is a western adventure involving a cat, a couple of pack rats, my favorite kitchen utensils, and ends with a crescent wrench. This is a true story. I will not tell you, however, that none of the animals were harmed in the creation of this tale.

Everyone with a little bit of cowboy in them dreams of living on the wide open plains of Montana. Wild, windswept prairie, endless views, buttes rising up in the distance, antelope grazing in your backyard, and empty land…we actually lived that dream. In 2003, my husband took over his grandparent’s 30-year-old scale and feed cart business, and we moved into our first owned home: a single wide trailer set on top of a wide open rise on his grandparent’s land in Broadview, Montana.

We also lived in reality, where drought and well pump problems meant no running water for the first four weeks. Rattlesnakes, mice, and pack rats were our first “pets.” Pack rats are Montana varmints about the size of a big pocket gopher, but unlike gophers, pack rats enjoy entering homes. We quickly enlisted a stray cat as the family exterminator. Pack rats are formidable enough, though, that our cat was afraid of a dead pack rat on her first encounter, until she ate it.

Our cat had a late night roaming habit. In the evening before we went to bed, she went outside and prowled the land. And being a clever kitty, she learned how to get herself let in as she pleased in the morning. Our bedroom was in the back of the trailer, with our bed was against the back wall just below a window.

On the outside of the house, just below that window was a decomposing particle board shelf, installed to hold an air conditioner that we did not own. Our cat discovered, though, that by straining to the limits of her vertical jumping abilities, and after several attempts, she could snag the shelf with a claw or two, slide down and create a raucous, repeat the scenario a few times, and eventually perch on top of the shelf where she would scratch at the window until she got let in.

Every morning just before dawn, her scritchity scratching woke us up, and we squeezed the two window tabs, pushed up the window and the cat crawled in, walked across our bed, and then hopped to the floor. After this became a normal morning ritual, I could elbow my husband, we’d each push a tab and let the cat saunter in and we could be back sleeping before our heads hit the pillow and our kitty’s feet landed on the floor in our room.

One morning, however, after conducting our usual scratch-open-sleep routine, our sleep got interrupted by an unfamiliar crunching sound. After it became too persistent to ignore, I climbed over my husband to see our cat with her head tilted in concentration and her jaw opening wide to gnaw on a pack rat. On the floor, in our bedroom.

As disturbing as it was to see our cat eating a pack rat on our new white berber carpet, it was even more disturbing to realize that she entered through the window with said treasure, and then dragged that dead pack rat past our heads on our pillows, and across our fluffy down comforter before taking her little delicacy to the soft, clean carpet to savor and enjoy.

Reason and logic would suggest that a person, and most definitely two people, would notice a large pack rat in the mouth of a cat sitting on a window ledge at face level directly in front of them.

Sometimes, however, we defy both reason and logic. We had no clue that a dead varmint entered our premises until we heard crunching.

I don’t know what the honorable or dignified solution is when you find yourself in the awkward position of hearing your cat enjoying a pack rat on your carpet, but we opted for no intervention. Neither one of us wanted to pick up a partially consumed pack rat and dispose of it properly. (What is the proper disposal method for a pack rat these days? Are they hazardous waste? Can they be recycled?)

Instead, we just let the cat clean up the mess herself. In the quiet of the early morning, we laid there in bed listening for an extraordinarily long time to the grinding crunch of pack rat bones in our cat’s mouth. Finally, the crunching stopped and she commenced licking her fur, and we snoozed for a few more minutes, assuming it was all over.

We discovered, however, that not all parts of a pack rat are edible. After laying in a bed defiled by a dead pack rat, a shower seemed like the proper thing. Jarred climbed out of bed to head to the shower, and his foot came in contact with not soft carpet, but a wet, squishy thing. I don’t know what the dark green organ is on a pack rat, but I do know that it definitely does not taste good. The cat was kind enough to leave it in the exact foot path of those first groggy steps out of bed.

The golf ball-sized green organ thingy smashed on a foot really just leaves a dirty feeling that no soap can wash away.

No need to worry, though, about the loss of life, pack rats are among the more prolific of God’s creatures, and they continued to grace our lives that first year in our trailer. On the domestic front, you might enjoy knowing that while Pampered Chef spatulas are heat-resistant, they are pack rat-irresistable. As newlyweds, many of our possessions were second hand cast-offs acquired during our college years. That made my fancy, expensive spatula a particular treasure. Discovering deep gnaw marks defacing the smooth tip made my blood boil.

The kitchen utensil carnage continued for several days. Each morning I pulled open the drawer to discover wooden spoons and more spatulas falling victim to the gnawing ways of some blasted pack rat. At one point he chewed a hole all the way up through the subfloor and living room carpet, a hole large enough to plug with a tennis ball. This is true.

If that wasn’t bad enough, in the evenings, the varmint made enough packrat racket in our bathroom that it sounded like someone was doing a bathroom remodel under our tub. Every night we heard scraping of wood that could be heard all the way down the hallway in our living room, with the tv on at normal volume.

I started envisioning a little pack rat with a construction hat and a tool belt conducting his own little This Old Trailer House episode right under our tub. In a pack rat New England accent he’d say, “Now, we need to remove a little excess wood from this arear ovah heah.” (gnaw, gnaw, gnaw…)

Finally, though, that pack rat became the Saturday Night Main Event. One night in bed, we heard the gnawing again in the bathroom. Jarred sprang into action, and removed the access panel to the tub. He managed to get the varmint cornered between the tub, wall, and an Igloo cooler (as per standard pest control protocol).

What happened next is best described as vigilante justice. In Saudi Arabia, the punishment for theft is losing one’s hand. In Montana, the punishment for consumption of Pampered Chef spatulas, my wooden spoons, and our house studs and subfloor is, well…you get the picture. A large crescent wrench is in fact all one needs to control a pest infestation. A few thuds and a triumphant yell later, we drifted off to sleep under the quiet of our starry prairie skies. And of course, we lived happily ever after.

 © 2012

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The Cloth Diaper Revolution

Written April 16, 2012.

In 2006, when our first baby girl arrived on the scene, I didn’t know anyone that used cloth diapers.  As far as I was concerned, cloth diapers died out with the hippy era.  Never seeing cloth diapers used, my image of cloth diapering was an over-worked mother wallowing in baby filth up to her shoulders, with her pitiful child swaddled in a droopy, leaking, repeatedly-stained poor excuse for a Huggies.  But in the diaper world, the times, they are a changin’.

Three-and-a-half years later, in 2009, we had three children and I’d changed my tune on cloth diapers.  I brought my third child into his well-baby checkup wearing a snazzy red cloth pocket diaper, and the nurse that weighed him looked at me cross-eyed wondering what in the world I had on my child, and how she was supposed to take that strange contraption off in order to weigh him.

Fast forward another two years to 2011, though, and things changed.  When I brought our fourth child in for a well-baby checkup sporting a leopard print cloth diaper on her bum, I asked that nurse if she had seen these before, and she smiled and said, “Oh yeah, we see these all the time.  I wish these were available when I had kids.”  In just two years time, the new style of cloth diapers had become fairly commonplace to the nurses at our children’s clinic that see babies all day long.

My one-year-old feeling sassy in her animal print diaper.

My Own Diaper Adventure 

I’ve been using cloth diapers for nearly three years now.  My venture into cloth diapering began when our third child was born.  We had two children in diapers and one in Pull-Ups at night.  Every week I shelled out another $10-15 and sent about 70 diapers to the garbage, only to do it again the next week. And again, and again. I wanted out of the cycle.

So I bought some flat cloth diapers, plastic pants, and diaper pins.  I ventured into old school cloth diapering with my one-month-old and two-year-old sons. The sight of a long line of pristinely white cloth diapers waving in the Montana summer sunshine gave me a particular happiness that chucking dirty Pampers in the garbage never provided. I was hooked.

But this is the age of the internet and innovation, and with a little time spent on Google, I soon realized that technology has revolutionized cloth diapers.  I quickly replaced the noisy and cumbersome plastic pants with polyurethane laminate (PUL) diaper covers. They are soft fabric on the outside with a laminate waterproof backing, have easy to use Velcro or snap closures, and best of all, they simply require inserting a cloth diaper folded in thirds, eliminating the need to pin.

After some experimenting with diaper options, I finally settled on what is called a “pocket diaper.” These diapers most closely resemble disposables in style, making them easy for anyone to use and simple enough to even bring to daycare. Pocket diapers have a PUL waterproof outer and are lined with microfleece, which wicks moisture, leaving the baby feeling dry. Inside, pocket diapers have an opening or “pocket” between the cover and the inner fleece which you then stuff with an absorbing layer (microfiber, cotton inserts, and organic hemp being some options).

A great feature about pocket diapers is the ability to customize absorbency. I use a single insert during the day and double them at night. I’ve had rare leaks, and even better, messy “blowouts” are extremely rare.  With my first two kids in disposables, those infant explosions of mess shooting out the sides and up their backs were fairly common.  With my second two kids in cloth, those episodes were practically nonexistent.   What I love best about my pocket diapers are the adjustable snaps down the front: a single diaper fits babies from eight pounds to over 30 pounds. With two kids in diapers at the same time, I never worry about running out of a particular size, because every diaper fits.

Washing Diapers Isn’t Scary

As for the most dreaded aspect of cloth diapers, I was downright amazed to discover how simple and hands-free it is to have beautifully clean diapers. Changing a diaper (cloth or disposable) is the hard, messy party.  Putting diapers into a washing machine is easy. After flushing any solids, I store the soiled diaper in a covered, dry diaper pail until I’m ready to wash a load of diapers, usually every few days. Then I let the washing machine do the dirty work. First I give any soiled diapers a pre-wash in hot, then wash all of the diapers with soap in a long cycle with water as hot as the water heater allows. I finish with an extra rinse, and simply dry them in the dryer. In the spring and summer I sometimes hang them on the washline, letting the sunshine naturally brighten and sanitize the diapers.

Three kids helping hang diapers in the sunshine. (Helpfulness like this just has to be photographed.)

Bottom line for Baby Bottoms

After nearly three years of use, I am still a happy user of my cloth diapers.  I love that I don’t have to run to the store and fork over more money when my diapers run low, I just head to the washing machine.  I like that my kids have less diaper rash.  I love that our garbage cans don’t fill up nearly as fast.

Here are my simple numbers.  I use cloth diapers about 95% of the time.  We usually go through about 10 diapers/pull-up trainers a day with two kids wearing diapers and 1-2 additional kids wearing pull-up trainers at night.  That makes 300 diapers a month.  Multiply that times 32 months of using cloth diapers, and that makes 9,600 diapers.  If I’ve used them 95% of the time, that makes about 9,120 diapers that I did NOT throw into the garbage over the last few years.  Astonishing, right?  And that’s just little old me.  We used to make a full kitchen-sized bag of garbage every single week with just diapers, so that makes a good 135 bags of garbage not created.

The cost savings are just as remarkable.  If a baby exclusively uses disposables from birth until he/she is potty-trained, parents can expect to pay $1,600-$2,300 on diapers, according to http://www.surebaby.com.  As far as cost, I’ve spent about $300 total over the last few years to buy cloth diapers and pull-up trainers.  That $300 I spent diapered not one, but three children and kept two kids in pull-ups at night.  I would have spent about $4000 to keep my kids in disposable diapers during that time.  And best of all, my diapers are still functional and continue to be used.

Curious? Interested?

If saving money, creating less waste, and covering your baby in an adorable, soft diaper sound appealing, head to the internet and do a little research.  A search on cloth diapers will delve you into the ever-growing variety of cloth/reusable diaper options.  Start small and experiment with a few different options and find out what works for you.  And there’s no rule about all-or-nothing.  Even if you just use cloth diapers some of the time, it still saves money and cuts down the landfill fodder.

Currently, there are few retailers that stock the new options in cloth diapers.  You won’t find them wandering the shelves at Target or Walmart.  For most people, the internet is the primary source for purchasing cloth diapers.

Our local area in SE MN is fortunate, however, to have a cloth diaper retail store available.  Tina Darr, a stay-at-home mother of four, owns Cloth Diapers Today, a home-based business in Rushford, MN.  With the next closest cloth diaper retail store located in the Twin Cities, Tina serves a wide customer base from the SE MN area, northern Iowa, and Wisconsin.  With a young baby at home, Tina currently runs her business by appointment.  If interested, visit her website at www.clothdiaperstoday.org or call her at 507-864-7650.  Tina says she has seen an explosion in the last 5-8 years of people exploring cloth diapering options, in part because “it’s so easy now.”  With so many cloth diapers now available, Tina offers the convenient opportunity to see and feel diaper options in person.

So for Earth Day, why not have your baby go green? (Or purple, turquoise, zebra-striped, pink, polka-dotted…)

 © 2012

Spring is Keeping Me Awake at Night

Written April 9, 2012.

It’s 2 AM and I can’t sleep. Maybe it’s the full moon. Maybe it’s the mediocre cup of instant Folgers I brewed and drank at 10 PM. Maybe it’s the fact that my husband, Jarred, will be here tomorrow after spending the last two weeks back in Montana working on loose ends. Maybe it’s the landscaping plants sitting outside the Rushford Hardware Hank that beckoned me on the way into the store this evening, and now leave me laying in bed making landscaping schemes and dreams.

Maybe it’s that my 2-year-old keeps getting out of his bed to come and snuggle up next to me for reassurance in this new house, with his giant hard plastic hippo flashlight in tow. Maybe it’s that all the creaking in the hallway from late night foot traffic is waking up the baby, making her cry and then keeping me awake. Maybe I can’t sleep because there are two people sleeping in our king size bed right now, and neither one is my husband nor me…and even though neither one is waist high, the whole bed seems to be occupied.

I don’t know what it is, but I can swear can feel an energized humming all around. The florescent lights under the kitchen cabinets make a soft, slightly annoying hum, but I don’t think that’s it. I think the humming is coming up from the ground. I think it’s spring. It’s soft grass, crabapple trees in full blooming pink, tractors industriously crisscrossing up and down our road, and leaf buds opening on trees, practically glowing in the fresh green.

All of it makes me just too excited to sleep. Living in a rental house for the past year felt a little like suspended animation. We spent a big part of that year in a holding pattern, wondering where and how were going to land. But now, we’ve landed.

Our kids were thrilled to discover a gigantic evergreen in our windbreak, perfect for climbing and complete with an existing tree fort.

And best of all, it’s spring. It’s my favorite time of the year. It’s easy to fall in love in spring. Eleven years ago I remember hanging out on the roof of Jarred’s house in college, sitting up there with him in the week before finals. The excitement of freedom from school in sight, and looking out from the rooftop vantage point at the town of Bozeman, Montana, where every apple tree was in full pink bloom, and the sun was shining warm in the clear blue sky, made the whole world seem lovable. I was smitten with life and engaged in three months. That’s what spring, and of course the right guy, can do.

The feeling is much the same here at our new home. There’s just so much energy, promise, and new opportunity all around. Coming from dryland Eastern Montana, where our annual rainfall was just 13 inches, I feel like I’ve now been unleashed in Minnesota at the all-you-can-grow buffet. Looking at plants and seeds, I have to rein myself in and practice portion control. I just want all of it. I want to gorge myself on plants and grow everything, until I feel gluttonous on flowers.

Part of me feels like a kid getting to play farmhouse. I get to have my house and yard in the country that is all ours, and stare out at rolling fields of rich, black dirt and have all the fun of seeing big tractors in the field and watching crops grow. And like a kid, watching the farming all around me is just pure fun. I fully realize farming involves the reality of equipment breaks, bankers, ever-changing federal farm programs, uncertain crop prices, and so much more. And that makes me all the more content to simply be an enthusiastic fan on the sidelines of farming.

While I’m just a spectator to the fields all around us, in our own house and yard, we can get our hands dirty with several years’ worth of projects. I look around and I’m just itching to give some attention to countless little projects that need some paint, a little repair, some love, and a little sprucing up. Doing them on our own time, the progress will be little by little. In my head, though, I can run it all at fast forward speed, and see the end product like it’s one of those movie montages.

If life was a Hollywood movie, we’d have this whole place looking pretty as a picture in about three minutes.

You know the kind, the Happy Hollywood Fixing up the Farmhouse Montage. If life was a Hollywood movie, I’d wear overalls and a red handkerchief on my head, the standard “working hard in the country” movie costume. In the background, a happy, hoedown-y song would be playing as you’d see the progress of improvements on our farm. I say farm, because in Hollywood, our 7.6 acres is most definitely a farm because we have a farmhouse, silo, barn, chicken coup, and sheds. Farm, right? No tillable acreage aside from the garden? Eh, details.

Visualize, then, some happy music as the backdrop of the “hard work” montage. I’d have a paint roller in my hand, painting up the outside of the house, and 10 seconds later the house will look all spiffy and new. Then I’d work up a sweat in the garden, wipe my brow with the back of my hand and leave a dirt streak there (you know you’ve seen this before). Next, Jarred and I saw logs with one of those two handled saws (firing up a more practical Stihl chainsaw just isn’t as romantic). Add in some zany hijinks where our kids are chasing chickens, and then the chickens chase the kids.

Then we’d wash the rounded fenders of our 1940’s pickup truck (because that’s what all movie farmers drive). I’d accidentally splash someone else with the garden house, and then a crazy, silly waterfight would break out. By now, the end of the hoedowny song comes, and we collapse on our backs onto the green grass with our arms stretched out, with that satisfied, hard-work-feels-good smile on our faces as we sigh.

And ba-da-bing, the camera pans across the farmyard, where everything is neat and trim and freshly painted, and all the flowers are growing perfectly under the wraparound porch. In the next shot, we sip our lemonades on the porch swing, gazing upon the sunset (even though the porch actually faces east, but that doesn’t matter for Hollywood purposes). All of the improvements would be done in the course of a song.

In real life I’d love to just grab a paintbrush and some perennials and be left to my own devices for days at a time. But if you’ve read any previous weeks of this column, you know my reality is four little kids to take care of, and you can probably guess that making “good progress” on anything often involves either losing sleep or leaving the kids to their own devices for too long, and then picking up the pieces (often literally) of whatever they’ve gotten into.

Our two-year-old was definitely less than thrilled to discover a burdock for the first time.

It’s late. I really should be in bed. Tomorrow morning, I will regret being up for an extra few hours tonight. I’ll feel crabby and groggy and just want to sleep when the kids are clamoring for a bowl of cereal. But yes, I am excited. Spring is in the air. It’s new life, new beginnings, new opportunities, endless possibilities. I can feel it all around me, and I want to go play.

 © 2012

What a Difference a Year Makes

Written April 2, 2012.

One of the best side benefits of children is the way they mark time.  After I passed my highly anticipated 21st birthday, the weeks, months, and years began to fly by.  One holiday blurs into the one from before, and another birthday passing doesn’t feel much different than any other.  Christmas rolling around sometimes feels like a burden when it seems like just yesterday I was shopping for last year’s gifts.
With kids, though, time matters in a big way.  The passage of a week is monumental when it marks the first tooth finally coming in, each changing season is magic to a preschooler, holidays take forever to arrive, and birthdays are important enough that our son tells his age in half-years, “I’m four AND A HALF,” because that extra half means a lot when you’ve only had four full years out in the world.
The significance of time is on my mind because this week, on April 2nd to be exact, our sweet little baby girl turns one year old.  Like any parent, I look at my baby, and just yesterday I saw her for the first time, a brand new pink, wriggling bundle of dainty arms and legs.  Then somehow, I blinked, and a whole year went by.  And like a typical mom, a part of me feels a little sad, because even though she still wakes up to nurse at night, I can foresee a not-too-distant day when she’ll be pulling out of the yard to head off to college.

One year ago, our baby boy held his new baby sister for the first time when she was just a few hours old.

Maybe her first year feels like a blur to me because it truly was.  Her first year of life marked all of the typical baby milestones, and it marked a series of monumental changes for us as a family.  Tallied up, in her first year, she lived in three different houses, logged 5,000 highway miles crisscrossing between MT and MN, and learned to feed herself and crawl in the midst hundreds of discussions about long-term family plans.

Last year in March, just weeks before she was due, we sold our little log house in Broadview, Montana.  “Nesting” for our fourth baby involved not decorating, but packing up the nursery.  We listed our log house for sale in anticipation of a move to Osseo, WI, where we had a signed purchase agreement on a business property.  At the time it seemed like an almost done deal, but we faced roadblocks at every turn, and the deal in Wisconsin ultimately dissolved.  So when we finally sold our house in MT, we no longer had a specific final destination, although we knew we wanted to find something near my family in MN.

Just two weeks after our daughter was born, we packed up and moved out of our log house.  It was an easy move, distance-wise, just across town to rent the church parsonage in Broadview, MT.  The hard part was the long-term uncertainty.

Spring 2011, then, was a blur of newborn baby care and moving boxes.  Moving chaos, a new baby, and living in limbo as a family of six sounds like a perfect recipe for post-partum depression, but that wasn’t the case.  We were thankful to find a home to rent in our tiny town, especially with month-to-month lease flexibility.  Grandparents just across the street and a neighborhood full of friends for our kids made the rental house a great short-term home.

Summer months sailed by with a baby on my hip and three kids to chase.  Our newest addition spent the summer nursing and growing a nice, round tummy and plenty of rolls on her thighs for the swimsuit season.  We played outside, visited Grandma and Grandpa, our kids shared backyards with neighborhood friends, I cooked constantly to keep everyone fed, and fought the sometimes losing battle of keeping the kids and house clean (barring chocolate syrup disasters).

As fall began, our baby began feeding herself solids, and we made a visit to MN that led to a signed a purchase agreement for what is now our home.  School days mixed with months of stress and more uncertainty.  We submitted literally hundreds of pages of financials to banks, made countless phone calls, and waited.  Babies don’t care about any of that, though, and she happily endeared herself to all of her family in Montana, willingly accepting hugs and kisses from her adoring  fans: grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.

Just two days after our little girl’s first Christmas, we got the best gift of all, closing on our house in Minnesota.  We barely noticed that the winter snows never really showed up this year in the blur of making moving preparations.  As I packed boxes, she gleefully learned to unpack them, scattering the contents on the floor and then abandoning them in search of a new conquest.  Stealthily crawling into the bathroom and unrolling the toilet paper in the holder with smooth, efficient swats became one of her favorite skills as I tried to clean the house to move out.

And now spring is here again.  One year ago our family in Montana helped us moved across town to a short-term rental, and now, a year later our family here in Minnesota bowled us over with not just moving help, but painting, wiring, plumbing, repairs, cleaning, and filling our wood burner while we were gone, all totaling up to countless hours that we appreciate beyond words.

Last week, just shy of our baby’s first birthday, we finally moved into our house here in Minnesota.  Showing up unexpectedly last Sunday, we still had a yard full of cars with family eager to help us get settled in our house.  On two hours of sleep after driving through the night, I walked through the house in an exhausted astonishment at seeing much of our house already unpacked by family who had unloaded a trailer load of our things a month before.  Our kids played in their yard for the first time, chasing their cousins across the green grass in the warm afternoon sunshine, and our baby took her first nap in her new bedroom.

The little birthday girl, surrounded by her favorite entourage in their new house.

On our fourth child’s first birthday, we will create a sibling-decorated cake, and observe the sacred first birthday ritual of letting her smash and smear cake all over herself.  We will celebrate not only the joy of a beautiful, healthy, fun baby, but the excitement of beginning a new phase of our life in the home that we will “never move out of,” as our six-year-old proclaimed to her aunt in Montana.

 © 2012

On the Road to Home

Written March 24, 2012.

Right now it’s 10:30 on Saturday night, and we’re eastbound, just past Crow Agency, Montana. It’s been six months since we first signed a purchase agreement for our new place in Minnesota, and about six years since we first started talking about making a move to leave Montana and head back to the midwest. And now, we are on the road, headed home.

Laying in bed this morning talking about our day and things to do, we had no plans to move out today. I talked about our baby girl’s upcoming 1st birthday party on April 2nd, wondering when and where we should celebrate her big day, and we had a general feeling of ennui, just tired of waiting to move, but we had no intentions to leave just yet.

Then at breakfast, our 6-year-old event planner asked if we could go to Minnesota today. I jokingly told her to hurry up and grab her little suitcase and get her bunny, and maybe go out and start the van for us. We laughed and I went back to making eggs, and then a few minutes later Jarred said to me, “What if we did go to Minnesota today?” And then we looked at each other, and a few minutes later we had a plan for the day that included getting on with our life.

While packing up to get on the road, I noticed our daughter’s beloved bunny was now sporting a backpack, crammed full of bunny travel essentials. If only everyone packed up as quickly as the bunny.

It’s been a long time coming. Moving away from Jarred’s hometown of Broadview, Montana and coming back to the area where I grew up in Minnesota is an extension of a continual discussion in our lives. Late at night, over lunch, or driving in the car, we entertain a million different ideas about what to do with our lives. We have definite preferences about what we like and ultimately want for ourselves and our children, but we are flexible, adaptable, and adventurous enough to also know that we could have a good life in many different scenarios.

There are times that I think life decisions might be easier for us if we considered more choices to be black and white. If there is only one “right” path to take, it’s easy to follow that road. It’s much more tricky looking at a big road map, and seeing there are lots of ways to arrive at the same destination. For us, we seriously tossed around Alaska and Hawaii and many things in between, but where we ultimately fixed our compass looks really similar to a late-night scrawled “wish list” that we wrote about four years ago.

Late one night after the kids were in bed and we had time to think, we jotted down a wish list on the magnetic cardboard backside of a used up grocery list pad.  The list stuck on the side of our fridge for several years, got covered with notes and pictures, and later got tucked away in a box.  In packing to move, I came across the list again after not seeing it for a long time.

On our dream wish list we wanted green grass, room to roam, large established trees, space to ride a 4-wheeler, a garden, a house with history that had elbow room enough for a big family, a shop for Jarred’s metal working tools, a tree swing, a big front porch, living within 20 minutes of family, and a short work commute.

Finding the list again, it’s amazing to read down it and see how nearly all of the 20 or so wish list items are met in the place we’re headed to in Minnesota, right down to the short work “commute” that will be Jarred’s upstairs office and his shop across the yard. At the time we wrote those things down, they seemed like a far off “some day” dream, something that might be 10 or 20 years in the making. And now, I really can’t wrap my head around the fact that at this very moment we are driving to that home we’d always hoped to find.

As overwhelmingly antsy as we all have been these last few weeks while Jarred is finishing up his scale and hopper installation project, pulling out of Broadview, Montana this evening was no easy task. I love my family here.  Two days ago I watched our baby girl fall asleep in the arms of her 86-year-old great grandpa.  Just before we took off, we had supper at Jarred’s sister’s house.  The dining room overflowed with a sea of busy kids, a mountain of spaghetti dinner, and a family with grandparents down to grandkids all gathered around two tables.

Knowing it would be hard to leave, we did our goodbyes fairly quickly, like pulling off a Band-Aid in one quick motion instead of slowly prolonging the sting.  Just the same, as we left, I was going to be a big girl, but I burst into tears and it quickly spread to everyone else.  Our kids said goodbye to everyone, we made one last stop to say goodbye to the house we’d lived in for a year.

And ironically, just when we were ready to head off into the sunset, two trains went through town, and one stopped and blocked the roads out of town for about ten minutes.  The trains come through Broadview several times daily, blaring annoyingly long horns night and day.  It only seems appropriate, then, that the good old Burlington Northern Santa Fe gave us a goodbye, as well.

Two days before leaving, we played on the “climbing rocks” at the top of the hill on Great Grandpa Thelmer Mosdal’s land. Warm sun, a high perch, and wide open views for at least ten miles in any direction gives kids the giddy sense that they are on the top of the world.

Tonight we’ll drive straight through the night, cross through South Dakota, hit the Minnesota border around daybreak, stop for breakfast at the Perkins in Worthington, MN where we “always” stop since it’s happened three times in a row, and then roll in to my mom’s house just in time for Sunday brunch at noon.

We didn’t tell anybody in Minnesota that we’d be arriving Sunday morning, so even though they know we’re moving here, nobody (including us) knew it was going to be today.  And best of all, once we eat at mom’s, we will make the short drive to our house that I haven’t seen for six months, pull into the driveway, and I’ll tell the kids, “We’re home!!!”

© 2012

Preventing Mutiny with Playdough

Written March 19, 2012.

My little Montana natives are getting restless. They tell me repeatedly they want to go home. “Home” as in our new house in Minnesota that they only saw for a few hours total, six months ago.

It was a full month ago now that their dad hauled most of our stuff to that house. At the time, when we loaded up two full trailers, we thought another two weeks here in Montana would wrap up all of his work projects here. And now, a month later, it looks like we are still two more weeks out from that elusive moving date. If you listen closely on a calm day, you might be able to hear our collective sigh from 1,000 miles away.

Understandably, my kids are getting tired of it all. We’ve all been living out of duffel bags for a month. When I set aside their clothes to keep here, I grabbed only long-sleeved shirts since it was the middle of February at the time. Now, with this stretch of crazily warm weather here in MT (and even hotter in MN, I hear), I’ve been accusingly asked more than once why I didn’t pack them some t-shirts.

And of course, when St. Patrick’s Day rolled around, they wondered why one month ago I didn’t think ahead to make sure that they each had something green to put on for that day. Silly me.

For several weeks they’ve been troopers about living in a mostly empty house, devoid of their usual assortment of toys and their own comfy beds and blankets. But a few nights ago, when the end of the day weariness kicks in and emotions heighten, my 6-year-old came to me with tears rolling down her cheeks, telling me that this house here “doesn’t feel like home anymore. Now it just feels like an ‘icky’ old house.” Then she asked if we could just move to Minnesota in the morning. I told her I wished we could.

It’s certainly not for a lack of effort that we are still here in Montana. My husband, Jarred, has been logging long hours for weeks. Every morning he leaves after breakfast and doesn’t get home until supper has been cold for a long time.

Three nights in a row, he didn’t get home until after the kids were already in bed. The older kids understand that he is working hard to finish his scale projects so we can move, but at the same time, they really just want their dad around to play with them. With their favorite live-action super hero gone installing scales until bedtime, hanging out in this empty house feels all the more, well, empty.

One morning this week when our almost one-year-old sweet baby spied Dad after not seeing him since breakfast the day before, she giggled and leaned toward him so he would hold her. Then she laid her head on his shoulder, grabbed onto his shirt with one hand, and patted his back with the other. That’s the sweet side of it all.

On the not-so-sweet side is the bickering and arguing of kids who are getting tired of the empty surroundings and miss being in a house that feels homey. My two oldest kids are just fifteen months apart, and being that close in age, they know each other all too well.

They sit next to each other at meals, and lately, they bicker and push each other’s buttons like a grumpy old married couple. “It’s not actually peanut butter and jelly. It’s really jam.” “Well, I say jelly.” “Well, that’s wrong. It’s jam.” “But I call it PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY!!!!” Follow this actual exchange with an angry growl and one squeezing the other’s arm, and you’ve got an accurate picture of family meals these days.

After several of these days this week, I knew we needed a little something different in our lives. So, I dug in our kitchen cupboards and I made a toy that cost next to nothing and can happily engage them for an hour at a time. Playdough.

Growing up, I thought homemade playdough was a sad, sad excuse for the “real” stuff that came from the store. My childhood recollection of homemade playdough was a stiff, salty, grainy mass that dried out too quickly, was too hard to shape, and not pliable enough to roll. It was useless (and tasted terrible, I might add). We added water to it trying to fix it, and it became a thick spackle that probably wound up in the garbage.

Apparently, we didn’t have the right recipe, because now I absolutely love homemade playdough. The recipe I use makes a wonderfully soft, smooth, easily pliable dough that is a tactile dream. And the beauty of it is that it’s a two-for-one: a science experiment/cooking project in the kitchen, and a fun toy when the project is complete.

On the day we whipped up a batch of fun, my three oldest kids eagerly gathered around to stir together the dry ingredients in the saucepan before I cooked the batch on the stove. In bickering mode, they argued over who got to dump in what and how the mix should be stirred, but we forged ahead because I knew eventually they would be too engrossed in activity to argue.

The big kids stir together dry ingredients and argue a bit while Kathy held the baby and kept her out of the flour mess.

Once I cooked the dough, we divided it into baseball-size clumps. Then each clump got a few child-selected drops of food coloring, and they eagerly kneaded it until the ball became a satisfyingly bright color. My kids are into rainbows, so they decided we needed all the colors, including indigo and violet. I mixed and tweaked food coloring drops, and they smushed and squeezed away, until we had seven bright balls of playdough.

A complete rainbow of playdough colors, including indigo and violet. Thank you, Cat in the Hat, for teaching my kids the Rainbow Song. I sing it in my sleep.

Best of all, once we finished making the playdough, I turned them loose. Snakes, circles, birthday cakes, pizzas, and animals took shape and then got smashed into oblivion. Sure, our baby was fed a few pieces of playdough “food” by a kind two-year-old brother. But when the ingredients came straight out of the kitchen, the kid squabbling was gone, and quiet, industrious play reigned supreme, I called the playdough project a great success.

Contentedly slicing playdough cookies before rolling them into snakes.w

It cleans up nicely, too. And I mean it. I would not make a playdough that would smear in the carpet and hold up this eagerly anticipated moving process…

Kathy’s Peace-Making Playdough

2 c. flour

1 c. salt

2 tbsp. cream of tartar

2 c. water

2 tbsp. oil

food coloring

Mix dry ingredients together in a saucepan. Add water and oil. Stir until smooth. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens and sticks to spoon. Cool. Add food coloring as desired, mixing by hand. Play until you feel happy. Store in an airtight container.

© 2012

The State of Our Moving Address

Written March 11, 2012.

Not yet, but soon. That’s the short answer. The question, of course, is “Did you move yet?”. My mom, who works at the library in St. Charles, tells me that as people figure out I’m a Kramer and her daughter, they’ve been occasionally asking about our moving status. So, this week, I’ll give my State of the Moving Address.

We’re all emotionally ready to move. Our two-year-old has been sorting out an impending move in his own way for several weeks now. Every morning he gets up, crawls into our bed, pulls back the curtains, and scans out at the town from our second story window in Broadview, Montana, and proclaims, “I see our new house in ‘Minnetota’!”

Seeing our things loaded up into a trailer and then pulled behind our pickup by his dad also made a lasting impression on our little boy. Several times a day he hops on his little battery-powered 4-wheeler, and behind him he proudly tows his own trailer: a cardboard box rigged up to the back of the 4-wheeler with a piece of rope. He loves to load up his “trailee” and tow it around the living room, telling us he is moving things to the new house in Minnesota. Endlessly helpful, our two-year-old moved our shoes, several pounds of clementines, various kitchen gadgets, and the mail to Minnesota, all without ever leaving the living room.

As for our real business, we still have a few big items to check off our list before we can head east on I-90 to our new place. One major project is Jarred’s scale and hopper installation project at a grain elevator in Billings, MT. My husband is a self-employed engineer, and for him, this project has the combination of mental challenge and hands-on fabrication that delights someone who grew up immersed in Legos and Tonka Trucks. He models up a design on the computer and then makes it all come together in real life, assembled with boom trucks and cranes. This is his sandbox.

Clear blue skies on the day the crane lifted two new steel hoppers into place at the elevator in Billings, MT. When Kathy’s husband finishes this project, the family will head to MN.

Like any big project, the finish date for this scale installation is an estimate at best. The grain elevator is anxious to be fully running again with spring in the air, and we are anxious to be heading to our new house. Jarred thought the installation could be done a week ago, but with design change requests, he still has about a week to go before the scale installation and custom computer program are all up and running. Once that project is done, we’ll load up our trailer again with the remainder of Jarred’s shop equipment and our house things, and head to our new place, where we’ll settle in and he’ll continue growing the 35 year-old family business of scale fabrication.

As for me, I’m trying very hard to be patient while we get projects wrapped up. If patience is a virtue, then I’m not a very virtuous woman. It feels like cabin fever, short-timer’s disease, and wanderlust all mixed together. I just know our house in Minnesota is excited to see us.

I’m also excited to move on because I’m living in a sort of self-inflicted isolation from the outside world for the last few weeks (if you can call four kids at home isolation). I gave up facebook for Lent when I decided I spend too much time and get too little enjoyment on that website. I’m also at home even more than ever. My husband gets our groceries while he is in Billings, so that eliminates the need to load up the kids and head to town. And, our kids were home last week after having their last day of school here in Broadview the week before. That means I don’t even need to leave the house each morning and afternoon to shuttle kids to and from school.

My connection to the outside world also got a little more cut off when our tv, my favorite news source, left our house and went to MN. Jarred takes our laptop with him on the job site most days, so the internet is also usually gone from our house. I do have my smart phone, but really, trying to watch Brian Williams tell about the latest in Afghanistan on a broken internet connection and a teeny little screen is not really all that smart.

So, I’ve got no tv other than a few over-played children’s videos, only sporadic internet, no facebook, and no need to leave the house on a regular basis. Sometimes I’m not sure that all this time left to my own thoughts is entirely a good thing. On the other hand, I don’t have any plans to create my own extremist regime, I don’t live in a house with 40 cats, and I don’t walk around wearing feather boas with sweat pants (usually), so I think I’m probably ok for now.

The upside of having myself isolated from outside distractions is getting our projects done at home, and maybe we will get our rental deposit back after all. The iron burn on the carpet gets repaired tomorrow! And last evening in my “free time” while cooking chicken for supper, I repainted a dining room wall with three kids clamoring to help and a fourth kid in a high chair shouting for more frozen peas.

Jarred came home just in time to save the chicken from impending fire, wash wet paint off of 6 little hands, and change a diaper before our “relaxing” family-time dinner. Stop touching the walls!  With new paint, the marker smudges and dining room chair scrapes on the walls are now a distant memory.

At supper last night we sat around the table enjoying chicken (again) from our slowly dwindling freezer hoard and inhaling paint fumes. As we ate, we all talked about being excited about moving very soon. Our oldest kiddo, smiling, proudly announced, “I am NOT sleeping in this house next Saturday!” Then her very pragmatic self tacked onto her announcement the caveat, “Well, unless we still need to be here. Then I’ll sleep here again.”

So there you have it! Next Saturday, we are not sleeping in this house in MT! Well, unless we still need to be here.

© 2012

The Joy of Less

A life with a house full of kids means things will never be “simple,” there will never be a surplus of free time, and no matter how many possessions we don’t have, the house will never be spotless. And that’s ok. 

Written March 5, 2012

I learned something in the last two weeks. The best way to cure my sense of reluctance about leaving our place in Montana is to remove 90% of our possessions from the house, and keep on living there. When there is no couch in the living room and we sleep on air mattresses, suddenly, foot-dragging about leaving family and friends here in MT begins to dissipate, and I can’t wait to move to Minnesota.

The advantage to our current situation, though, is that I am discovering the joy of less. I’ve read about the “Voluntary Simplicity” movement, where people cast off superfluous items cluttering their lives and pare down to the essentials, freeing themselves from the drain of possessions. With that in mind, after moving a trailer full of stuff to Minnesota, I envisioned a contentment that is supposed to come from being freed of possessions. I also imagined a blissful amount of free time coming my way with a mostly empty house.

The only thing in our play room right now is a box of borrowed Legos

Hopeful visions, though, don’t always match reality. I have no blissful amount of free time in our emptied out house. I still have the same amount of meals to cook, clothes to wash and fold, diapers to change, and our kids still need as much care as always. And we are still preparing to move. But for the last two weeks, my husband and I both notice that there is a certain amount of mental freedom that comes from having less, especially in regards to our kids.

I have to admit, for the last two months, our kids watched way too much tv. With my mind and time consumed by preparations for moving to MN, I let the big black box on the wall become a babysitter for our kids too much of the time. Letting them zone out in front of the boob tube kept them quiet and let me get work done, but it certainly didn’t make me feel like a good parent.

Now, though, the big, black mind-drainer mounted on the wall is gone. We did borrow a little 12-inch tv and a VCR from my husband’s mom, but with no antenna or satellite to pick up tv channels and only a handful of movies to watch, television definitely is not a big draw right now.

Instead, the big draw at our house in the midst of moving is…drum roll, please…cardboard boxes. We all know the truism that when little kids open a gift, it is often the box that gets more attention than the toy itself. Right now, we are in cardboard box heaven. Box trains, box castles, box towers, box walls, and box beds get built in endless variations at our house. What is better than building a tower of boxes as tall as the ceiling and then kicking it down with wanton abandon? It seems naughty and destructive, which makes it all the more fun.

No toys, no problem: Building and demolishing cardboard box walls with the help of neighborhood friends.

With 99% of the toys gone, I’ve had the joy of watching our kids be more inventive for the last few weeks. We still have a package of markers, and art projects get cranked out in high gear. Most of our art supplies are already in MN, but cardboard rounds from pizza, paper towel tubes, and old calendars are all fair game for what our kids call “recycling.”

Our children also have been more social. Yesterday, I counted nine kids at our house as springlike weather brought most of the neighborhood kids to our backyard to play together. And a few nights ago, I watched our three oldest kids invent a rousing game of “Mean Cow, Sick Cow.” For nearly an hour, they took turns being the “cow,” while the other two kids chased the cow, tied it up with a scarf, and excitedly administering shots using a marker with the pointy cap on. Of course, multiple injections were necessary, always administered in the cow’s hindquarters.

Watching our kids play with next to nothing for two weeks also makes me look ahead. Eliminating most of our kids playthings in preparation to move gives me the opportunity to consider how I want us to live our lives in our new home. I don’t have specifics formulated yet, but I definitely love the concept that by giving kids less, they actually have more. We’re moving into a house that is nearly 100 years old, and nothing appeals to me more than having our kids playing in much the same way that the kids played in that house 100 years ago.

In the summertime, I want them to pass their days digging in the dirt, building secret hideouts in our windbreak, climbing trees, riding bikes, chasing chickens, and watching baby kitties grow up. I’d rather turn them loose with hammers and nails and some scraps of wood and let them bash their thumbs a few times than have them memorize every episode of “Sponge Bob.” I want my kids to be each other’s best friends. I want them to create secret clubs that parents don’t get to know about. And sometimes I want them to go off for hours all alone working in full concentration on projects all by themselves.

While I am sometimes tempted to just donate everything to Goodwill, I realistically know I’m not going to throw away all of our toys when we move into our house in Minnesota. Getting rid of our toys wouldn’t eliminate the daily kid clutter. After all, this week with no toys, we instead had cardboard box mess in our living room. And our flat screen isn’t going to be cast off anytime soon, but I do want a life with less electronic mind-numbing devices, myself included. It’s way too easy for hours to unintentionally slip by when staring at a screen.

These last two weeks, I’ve seen first hand how easy it is to live with less (not even a couch) and how little we really need to be happy. A life with a house full of kids means things will never be “simple,” there will never be a surplus of free time, and no matter how many possessions we don’t have, the house will never be spotless. And that’s ok. A lived-in house full of kids is a life well-lived in my book.

We are all excited to move to Minnesota and once again sit on our couches and sleep in our real beds, but we are the most excited about the million happy memories that are going to be created in our new house.  It is the people, not the things, that will truly make it  home.

© 2012

TO DO LIST: 10 Days from Moving 1000 Miles

Chicken pancakes, anyone?

Written February 27, 2012

We are about ten days from our big move from Montana to Minnesota. About 90% of our household items and my husband’s shop tools are already at our new place south of Utica, MN. But as my father-in-law loves to say, we are 90% done, and have 90% to go.

Trying to get my head wrapped around all of this, I made myself a to-do list. And conveniently, my list of things to get done is now available for your enjoyment as you sip coffee and peruse the paper this week.

Remember to pack my tree swing, Mom. I can’t live without it!

  1. Laundry. Even though I have far more important moving projects to take care of this week, my family inconsiderately continues to wear clothes and get them dirty. Hauling dirty laundry to our new house just seems like bad karma, but it might happen depending on how the week progresses.
  2. Repairs. Put four kids and a dog in a house, even for just ten months, and lo and behold, we have a few repairs to do before leaving this rental house. The melted iron imprint in the carpet from our two-year-old needs to be repaired. We also have several random paint touch-ups: chair dings from overly busy kids at suppertime, and paint scrapes from wild rumpus.
  3. Cleaning. We encourage our kids to eat healthy foods and take part in many hands-on learning activities. That means when it comes to cleaning, I have to scrub some yogurt off the dining room wall and get banana bits out of the carpet. On the stairway, I need to scrub some abstract crayon and ballpoint pen art off the walls.
  4. Pack Kitchen. About 90% of our meals are made and eaten at home. That means I need most of my dishes and pans up until the end. Even though I packed much of my kitchen and shipped it off to MN already, the untrained eye would say the kitchen is still full, probably because it is.
  5. Eat Everything. Ideally, we’ll eat up all of our food and not need to pack up or give away anything on the day we move. Less ideally, we will be eating copious amounts of chicken. Somehow I bought a new giant-size bag of skinless, boneless chicken breasts when we already had one in the freezer. Then I did it a second time. Three bags. Chicken pancakes, anyone?
  6. Goodbye to school. Our kindergartener and our preschooler will both be spending their last days at school this week in Broadview, MT. In this small school, that means we are removing 2% of the school population in a few days. Heavy hearts are on both sides of the goodbyes.
  7. Clean Van. Never start a 17-hour road trip with any kid crumbs or clutter. We all usually hate life and/or are a bit loopy by the time we reach our destination on these MT-MN road trips. Any undue mess at the starting gates just adds to the stress.
  8. Pack the Back Room. Somehow, in the first load of stuff that is already in MN, we accidentally packed up our 6-year-old’s snowpants that she wears to school every day. Thank goodness, though, in our back room here I still have two hammocks that I’ve been moving from house to house for eight years. Too bad I can’t wrap our kiddo in hammocks and send her to school that way.
  9. Bathroom Sorting. When we sold our house last year and moved into this rental, I packed up a big old box of miscellaneous toiletries and put them under the bathroom sink here in our rental house. Like a time capsule, I will open the box for the first time in 10 months this week and sort it out.
  10. Backyard Toys. In just six years of kids around our house we’ve amassed enough outdoor toys to look like a daycare. Before we close the doors on this trailer load, a trampoline, swingset, and several ride-on toys need to make their way inside the trailer. The fifty pounds of sandbox sand, however, might not make the cut. We probably don’t need any ballast for this trip.

    Taking a break from the to do list… Thirty degrees with no wind is great swinging weather for a baby from a northern state.

  11. Tuesday-Babysit. An extended day of babysitting an additional two-year-old and four-year old the week of moving is something I happily take on because it’s my sister-in-law that needs a babysitter. She took our kids for two nights when our little guy had hernia surgery, and I am happy to return the favor.
  12. Wednesday-Inventory. We are leasing out our business property here in MT, and Wednesday is a busy day of tallying up inventory that will be sold along with the lease. Not exciting to read about, but a monumental day for us that ultimately frees us up to move to our new home.
  13. Thursday-Lunch. Every Thursday, nine of us Mosdals, spanning four generations, eat lunch together at the local Senior Citizens’ Dinner. For the last two years, we’ve enjoyed each others’ company and the great home-cooking of the ladies that prepare the weekly meals. This Thursday will be the last lunch that we eat with Jarred’s grandparents before moving.
  14. Scale Projects While I pack up the house, our moving date truly hinges upon Jarred completing the installation of two bulk weighing systems that will collectively handle weights of 620,000 lbs. I am happy to report that neither one of us needs a bathroom scale even close to that number.
  15. Goodbye to family and friends Somehow, before we load up and head east to Minnesota, I need to say goodbye and thanks for everything to our family and friends here in Montana. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I need to find the happy medium between ducking out of town without saying goodbye to anyone to avoid sadness, and throwing a “Burning Down the Rental House Farewell Party.” Please wish us luck. We’re coming your way soon.                                                © 2012

Silica Gel Beads and Peace that Surpasses all Understanding

Written February 20, 2012

My husband left us this week. He took all of our stuff, even our dog. Ultimately, we both agreed it was for the best. After all, we are in the process of moving, and it really was time to get some things out of the house here in Montana. So, my husband and his friend hauled two trailers full of household things and shop tools to Minnesota. He’s coming back home to Montana in a few days, and then we’ll wrap up everything here and all move to Minnesota together for good in the next few weeks. Between sick kids (again), packing, and the chaos of too many projects going on at once, life is at the same time a crazy blur and amazingly peaceful.

Somehow, even with all of these helpers, packing up the house took a long time

 

While we escaped most of the winter with hardly a sniffle for our kids, February makes up for it with one round of sickness after another. After our little boy’s hernia surgery and a round of stomach flu for four kids, I didn’t really think anything of it when runny noses made an appearance at our house earlier in the week. Turns out, though, that the runny noses turned into fever, coughing, and several days of feeling wiped out and not sleeping well at night for each of our kids. Two nights this week I tallied getting up ten times in the night for achy little people crying or wandering into our room, needing comforting. At one slightly irrational point in the middle of one of those nights, I remember wishing our kids just had the stomach flu again, since it really just lasted about seven rough hours. This latest bug dragged on for days, a long, slow, fussy grind.

 

In between sick kids and moving are the little details, things that I would probably forget about if it wasn’t for the fact that I am writing about this for the newspaper. Little details, like needing to Google “poison control silica packet” one day. Turns out that once again, my very industrious two-year-old fully utilized that golden seven minutes while I put his baby sister down for a nap. Somehow, he found the box that held the guitar for Guitar Hero. If you asked me to show you where we keep that box, prior to a few days ago, I would have told you we didn’t even have that box. Inside the box, he discovered a delicious gold mine, a few of those packets of silica gel. Yes, the ones always labeled “DO NOT EAT” and “THROW AWAY.”

 

When I returned downstairs, I found him busily cranking the Whirly Pop popcorn maker. The Whirly Pop is a covered pan with a hand crank attached to the lid to stir popcorn while cooking it on the stove. It’s marginally useful for popcorn, but it is fabulously noisy when cranked by a busy two-year-old. Since he uncovered it in the “donate” bag a few weeks ago, he has stirred up all sorts of noisy creations that kept him quite busy. Checking to see what he stirred up this time, I saw wet toilet paper, foam letters, and I had a sinking feeling when I saw mysterious little clear beads and a tell-tale silica gel packet laying next to him.

 

Asking him if he ate any of the beads that looked very candy-like, he simply said, “Yes I did.” Gulp. So, after a quick internet search, life went back to normal. By cross-referencing several websites, I learned that while the silica gel packets are labeled to look dangerous, they are essentially harmless. Humans would need to consume extremely large quantities to have the desiccating abilities be a problem. Silica gel is basically a man-made sand.

 

In addition to the new learning opportunity about ingesting foreign substances, this week of moving and sick kids includes a few other highlights. For our kids, the highlight of moving is kicking kitchen garbage bags full of clothes and blankets down the stairs from the second floor, sending the bags careening end over end until they crashed to the floor in the living room. Another highlight this week is our extended family. On the Montana end, my sister-in-law came to help pack with her five kids, driving several hours from their home in Miles City to get to our house after I made a phone call plea for help. And in Minnesota, when my husband arrived after driving 1,000 miles with a packed-to-the-rafters trailer, my family descended upon it, and unloaded everything into our new house in the space of an industrious afternoon.

 

In the midst of our moving melee, another event put all of the stress in perspective. Last Thursday, a great man in our community here passed away. Craig Schwehr, just 39, died after a long fight with multiple illnesses stemming from lymphoma and transplant complications. If I could pick someone that I would want to live a long life, Craig would have been at the top of the list. I first met Craig when I taught Spanish for two years in the same school where his wife was also a teacher. Craig was kind, quick to smile, generously giving, actively involved in our tight-knit community, and was well-liked in the town of Melstone where he taught high school math. He cooked delicious food, and on several occasions baked banana bread and sent it to school with his wife, Kelli, to share with all the other teachers. Most importantly, he was a devoted, loving dad who fostered and encouraged the achievements of his son and daughter who excel in both academics and athletics.

 

Over and over, our friend, Craig, and his family were in my thoughts this week. He was just a few years older than we are, not even 40, but his family’s time with him is done. As I thought about the Schwehr family, the phrase “peace that surpasses all understanding” popped into my head. I couldn’t remember what it came from, so I looked it up on the internet and realized it was from this Bible passage: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

 

So this week, as I felt anxious, I said a few prayers and reminded myself of how thankful I am for the situation we are in. Despite too much to take care of, moving stress, and not enough sleep, we are so blessed. We are moving to the house in the country that we’ve always wanted. I probably have another fifty years to spend with my husband, judging by our grandparents’ longevity. Every day, we get to wake up and hug our kids, and at night I have my husband next to me. Life is turned upside down, and at the same time, this is a peaceful, happy time. We are living the life we want to have, overflowing with wonderful family, and I am so very grateful for all of it.

Thank you to Kelli, Craig’s wife, for letting me share this.

© 2012