A Basement Dungeon Getaway

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Written  in January 2014.

Someday when I retire, I’m going to flee for part of every winter and head to a sandy beach. I’m going to sit and tan my wrinkled skin, feet in the sand amid turquoise waters, a book in one hand and a drink with an tiny umbrella in the other.

That longing for sun and sand happens to me every year, especially when I see all sorts of decent Minnesotans fleeing southward to sun in the dead of winter. My brother’s family just got back from an island hopping cruise in the Caribbean. A friend on facebook just posted that she was heading off to “paradise” with her husband.

Right now, though, we’re pretty much staying put right here. The pay I get from staying at home with kids is the intangible kind which pays in the long run, but doesn’t really work for buying plane tickets.

And really, who needs a sandy beach when you’ve got a basement dungeon full of 98-year-old spider webs? Last night, that’s just where Jarred and I spent a romantic evening.

Normally, on a Sunday night after the kids go to bed, a grand night is watching a movie on the couch and still getting to bed at a decent time. Last night, my big plan consisted of cleaning up the kitchen and then just heading straight to bed. But my husband kindly invited me down to the basement, where he planned to saw into water pipes to work on the boiler that’s been a persistent problem this winter.

I was elated.

Our basement is standard old farmhouse basement fare: It’s best feature is a cement floor. It also sports limestone brick walls, dim lighting, long strands of cob webs, a creepy back room containing an old tank, and a bonus outhouse-like “bathroom” stall with a hole in the floor where a toilet used to be. Bugs and spiders thrive year-round in our basement sanctuary.

Usually, my use of the basement consists of making a bee line to grab a paint can and darting back up stairs as fast as possible. Or sometimes, I dart downstairs with a flash light in hand, go to the “control center” in the dungeon, stand on the wood block step, and flip whatever circuit breaker blew and then dart back upstairs again.

In my mental plans, I want to clean up the basement and arrange it into less of a storage hodge podge. When I go down there, my main thought, though, is just to get back upstairs as soon as possible.

I did agree to go downstairs last night because I was asked to moved anything on the floor that shouldn’t sit in two inches of water, on the off chance that the pipe sawing and repair turned a little ugly.

I couldn’t think of any valuable and water soluble items off hand, but I did know it shouldn’t all get wet down there.

The first thing I did when I went downstairs to help was slip on my boots.  And spill hundreds of parts.

In the process of adjusting my boot, I knocked over and spilled Jarred’s container of hundreds of neatly sorted solderless connectors.

In non-technical terms, solderless connectors are blue, yellow, and red little plastic thingeys about the size of a noodle. They roll really nicely across a cement floor. I spent the first ten minutes of my “helping” picking those thingeys up and resorting them.

By the way, I did an excellent job sorting and no dead bugs accidentally made their way into the compartments.

I then directed my efforts toward moving things around in the basement, which doesn’t involve any plumbing or soldering. I came across my boxes of Christmas plates, the white china ones with holly leaves that have been abandoned for the last few years.

After shoving my boxes of Christmas plates around, knowing I still had no space for them in the kitchen, I had a Eureka moment: the basement cabinets.

Down in the basement are a set of the original wooden kitchen cupboards, almost 100 years old. Right now they look a little worse for the wear after sitting lonely in a damp basement for 35 years or so, but with glass doors on top and original hardware, I really like them. And behind the latches, the glass-doored cabinets stay relatively bug-free.

While Jarred fired up the Sawzall and cut some pipes, I unpacked my Christmas china and put it in the cabinets. My packing material of choice was newspaper (actually, the St. Charles Press) dated 2010. I remembered that when I packed those plates, I was pregnant with my little girl who is now almost three. At the time, we had our little log house for sale in Montana and we planned on buying a place in Osseo, Wisconsin.

Later we sold that house, the Osseo deal didn’t work, we rented a house for a year, and finally moved to our house in MN, where the plates sat in the basement for almost two years. It was like opening a Christmas plate time capsule of years gone by.

And somehow, the basement now seems a little less like a dungeon with nice plates on display behind glass cabinet doors. Or maybe a nicer dungeon at the very least.

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By the end of the evening we had unpacked Christmas china and a boiler that no longer sent the hot water down the drain instead of into our pipes to heat our house. In the process, the basement never flooded, not even a teeny bit.

While those vacations on sunny beaches are the kind where people wish they’d never end, the very best part of our basement dungeon getaway was the get away from the basement when the project was done. No, I didn’t need seven days and six nights to feel like I’d had my fill. And, there’s no need to “ooh” and “ah” over basement dungeon getaway photos. However, you might say “eew” and “eh…”

The silver lining in a night spent in the basement: plates finally unpacked after years spent in boxes.

The real silver lining is a boiler repair, but that’s not very pretty. Instead, just imagine the children’s book with Mike Mulligan in the basement of the new town hall looking happy and satisfied while Mary Anne the boiler pleasantly keeps the meetings warm. It’s like that.

The silver lining in a night spent in the basement: plates finally unpacked after years spent in boxes.  The real silver lining is a boiler repair, but that's not very pretty.  Instead, just imagine the children's book with Mike Mulligan in the basement of the new town hall looking happy and satisfied while Mary Anne the boiler pleasantly keeps the meetings warm.  It's like that.

Whether your getaway is on the beach or in the basement, wishing you warmth and coziness as the Polar Vortex once again heads our way… Stay warm, everyone!

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Marrying my Husband, Again

Special thanks to Bucket List Publications, an online magazine for also publishing this article.  Thank you so much!  Click here to see it.  

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I’ve always thought it’s a shame that most people only get married once. No, I’m not thinking about trading in my husband for a new model. I mean, really, neither one of us has time to date. We just moved cross country, and we’ve got four kids running around.

What I’m speaking of is weddings. What a shame that if done properly, getting all dolled up and spending a whole day celebrating your love only happens once in a lifetime. Only having one wedding dance to do a few polkas (as required by my Luxembourger/German birthright)? Only one fun party with your friends and family? I do believe that is criminal.

So, in celebration of our tenth anniversary a few weeks ago, Jarred and I got married again.

Ten years ago, on April 20, 2002, we walked down a long, long pier in Indianola, WA, and committed to forever with each other. Our first wedding was a pretty spontaneous affair. We originally planned to have a big, traditional church wedding in June of that year, but after seeing a few friends run off and do the simple, small wedding thing, we decided that sounded more like our style.

Our wedding in 2002 in Indianola, WA.

We gave our family an open invitation but just two weeks notice, and planned an outdoor wedding in April in Western Washington with no backup plan for rain. Our family on both sides amazed us when so many of them rearranged their lives on a moment’s notice and traveled from MT and MN for our wedding. I’m still touched when I think about how much of our family showed up for our wedding and the salmon barbecue and bonfire that followed.

This time around, we got married in our new house, with our kids in the bridal party.

In some ways I feel utterly humbled and unworthy to make any sort of to-do about a 10th anniversary. I see 25th, 50th, even 60th anniversaries in the paper all the time, and I humbly bow down to those couples’ marriage duration. With no question they have far more to say about love and commitment than I do. However, in our defense, we simply haven’t had that much time together yet. The beauty of ten years, though, is that we have had enough time and experience together that we can look back and reflect upon how our life is unfolding together, and of course, celebrate.

I do believe that we need to celebrate the fact that together we lived through six weeks of no running water in a trailer house in Broadview, Montana during the peak of the drought years, and still managed to like each other. We survived an unplanned stay in what turned out to be a pay-by-the-hour hotel in Mexico, four surgeries for our kids, and the challenges and joys of being self-employed.

Together, Jarred and I got through the pain of the first two pregnancies being miscarriages. And knowing what it is like to not simply have a baby because you want one, the birth of each of our four children has been all the more joyful. We fully realize the miracle that each child is, and when they are not beating on each other (and sometimes even when they are), we often take note that we are pretty darn blessed to get these kids that rule our lives. They are definitely reason to celebrate.

And appropriately for our life today, our second wedding was really just an event that we managed to squeeze in between the rest of our busy life. In our original fairy tale plans for this party, we thought we’d be living in our new house for several months already, nicely settled, and it’d be a fun way to have a house warming. As real life turned out, I moved in with our kids just three weeks before this planned event, and Jarred was still in Montana working up until a week before this shindig.

We whirled the moving mess upstairs to make the downstairs presentable, had some help from family with decorations, mowing, and food, and we had ourselves a party. My six-year-old daughter picked out a very fancy flower girl dress for herself and her sister (getting to fulfill every girl’s dream), our two boys were ring bearers, and the three oldest kids worked on helping their baby sister learn to walk in the weeks beforehand so she could walk down the aisle for the wedding.

It was a family affair, where moments before we were supposed to be ready, two of my sisters came to my rescue helping get kids dressed and looking presentable. One of my very favorite moments was getting surprised by Jarred’s parents, who showed up just as we cued the music to walk down the “aisle” of our wraparound porch. They made the long drive all the way from Montana without telling us they were coming, and surprised me enough that I screamed when I saw them, and then started to cry. Fortunately, we were running late as usual, and they made it just in time to see our short little ceremony.

My kids and I walked down the aisle, my niece was the maid of honor/junior bridesmaid, a friend’s daughter was an impromptu flower girl, and our dog, Spot, took the liberty to join in on the occasion, too. My brother acted as the minister, Jarred and his dad sang and played “The Wedding Song” from memory on their guitars, and we renewed our vows with a copy of our original ceremony, standing under the columns between our living room and dining room while our kids fidgeted around us.

After ten years of marriage, a little something usually gets in the way of “you may kiss the bride.” photo by Fresh Click Photography

Afterward, everyone headed to the kitchen to fill up their plates, I had the chance to catch up with some long-time friends, and later we rolled up the rug in our living room so our kids could dance. Seeing our six-year-old girl and five-year-old boy dressed in their fancy clothes and dancing together in the living room of our new home, surrounded by their family, is the best gift I could receive ten years after getting married to their dad.

Some days I get overwhelmed by the long, slow grind of unpacking our new home combined with the full-time job of caring for our kids. When I look around, though, and see I’m living in the farmhouse in the country that I always wanted, see four happy kids outside exploring their new yard, and have a husband who is just as excited about our kids and our new place and our life as me, and I know I’m blessed. Ten years ago, we never could have predicted the path of how we got to where we are today, but we’re awfully happy to be here.

© 2012

Our second wedding in 2012 with our very own flower girls and ring bearers. photo by Fresh Click Photography