Say it with me: “At this time last year…”

You certainly heard someone say it this past week.  Maybe you even said it yourself.

Looking out at our sea of snowy white, below zero wind chills, seemingly endless Monday snowfalls, you probably took comfort in A) Your winter escape trip to a warm, sunny location or B) That memory of what our area looked like just one year ago at this very time.

No signs of spring around here, where the road signs are still up to their necks in snow.

No signs of spring around here, where the road signs are still up to their necks in snow.

Cue that springtime bird-chirping music.   Let your mind drift back to last year at this time, with record highs, sunshine, and green grass.

Last year at this time…
-Day lilies peeked out of the ground.
-Crocuses were blooming.
-Snow blowers already had a layer of dust on them.
-The sound of lawnmowers filled neighborhoods.
-Spring lambs played outside on green grass.
-Kids ditched their snow pants and boots, wearing shorts when they played outside.
-First sunburns arrived extra early on MN winter white skin.

The memory of last year at this time is permanently planted in my mind, too, but for other reasons.  March 25th marks one year in our home in Minnesota.

One year ago we said our goodbyes to our family and friends in Montana and pulled out onto the highway, moving out of my husband’s hometown.  We drove all night.  One year ago we showed up at Mom’s house just in time for Sunday brunch.  Surprise!  Nobody in Minnesota knew we were coming that day.

One year ago, on that warm, sunny, blue sky Sunday afternoon we pulled into the yard of our new home and I said to our kids, “We’re home!”  It had been six months since I’d seen that house, so it was like seeing it again for the first time.

March 2012: Tree climbing weather, no jacket required.  Our son climbed "Maple the Maple" for the first time at our new house.

March 2012: Tree climbing weather, no jacket required. Our son climbed “Maple the Maple” for the first time at our new house.

That afternoon one year ago, a lawn full of our kids and their cousins christened our new home by playing in the yard for the first time.  My brother-in-law spent the afternoon mowing our lawn that already looked overgrown at the end of March.

One year ago, I walked around our new house in dazed amazement.  In an exhausted stupor from driving through the night, I took in walls freshly painted by my family, beds set up, and furniture already arranged.  Our family here put in countless hours while we were still back in Montana.

I remember people asking me where I wanted things, but I really didn’t have any answers.  The whole scene felt surreal.  After years of searching for “the place,” and months of headaches with realty arrangements and banks, we finally arrived to stay at our new home.  One year ago on that day, I didn’t roll on the grass, or kiss the ground, but I certainly felt like it.

A year into our new home, we still love it here.  We are thankful for the many neighbors and new friends who welcomed us into the community, and made it easy to be a part of our new hometown.

A few days ago, my husband said he was once again struck by it all as he walked back from the barn one evening after feeding the goats.  Yes, we have goats now, that’s another story.  Looking across the quiet yard in the country, seeing a warm house with a snow-covered landscape all around, all silent and peaceful at dusk, it struck him all over again how much he loves where we live.

We both agreed, though, as pretty as the snow is, we’d love to look out across the green grass that greeted us one year ago at this time.  The groundhog said spring should be here by now, right?

On a related note, as winter (hopefully) wraps up, I just want to say thank you to everyone that drives snow plows, helping keep the roads clear this winter.  While all Minnesotans love to discuss and sometimes grumble about how bad the roads are in the winter, the truth is, I’m usually amazed by how bad the roads are NOT.  As tired as we all are of winter, I’m guessing snow plow operators are just as tired, if not more, of our hefty late winter snows.  Thank you for what you do.

I’m thankful that when a snowfall comes along, or when the wind picks up and makes new drifts, I never wonder if the roads will be taken care of, it’s just done.  I can’t tell you how many times I saw or heard a big orange snow plow going past our house this winter.

Thanks for those before dawn snow plow runs that got the road clear for my sister to get work at Mayo early in the morning so she can be the nurse during someone’s surgery. Thank you for making Minnesota winters easier and safer for all of us.

And finally, happy birthday, Mom!  Thanks for all of the Sunday meals!  Love you.  Kathy (AKA “Number 10”)

Written March 28, 2013

Advertisements

Taking Stock of 2012

December 27th is a special anniversary at our house.  One year ago today we still lived in Montana, but we signed the closing papers on our home where we now live in Minnesota.

Coincidentally, it’s also been one year since I’ve been writing for the paper, which is kind of special, too.  You’ve now had a full year’s worth of my musings about running our family zoo of four kids.

Earlier in the year, our inquisitive little boy discovered our iron, and flattened our carpet.

Earlier in the year, our inquisitive little boy discovered our iron, and flattened our carpet.

It’s a peculiar thing to write a weekly column for the paper.  And today, I’m writing in part about just that.  Every week I sit down and write for a vast group of people that for the most part, I never see or talk to.  I usually try not to think about just how many people might read this, because quite frankly, it makes me nervous, and then I can’t write.

Sometimes people wonder where my ideas come from, but it’s fairly simple.  I begin by sitting down and whacking my head against the table until inspiration strikes.  Truthfully, I spend most of the week with a deadline in the back of my head, casually mulling over ideas.  Then casual thoughts turn to a nagging feeling, which then turns into mild panic the night before the deadline, when I often still don’t have the topic figured out.

Usually I sort things out in a moment of quiet.  I often “write” while I’m rocking our littlest one to sleep.  That 15-minute stretch of quiet is my gold mine.

Back in my college literature classes, I generally envisioned writers as someone like Emily Dickinson: nestled away, in a little attic cove, perhaps sunlight streaming from a window onto a well-worn wooden table, with a peaceful wooded view.  Writing is done in peacefulness, serenity, and solitude.

And that’s pretty much how it is for me, too.  Like today, for instance.  We’ve got plenty of serene views out of the window.  Except put me at the dining room table with six of us stir crazy at home on a snow day from cancelled school.  Take away the peacefulness, the serenity, the solitude, and the reflective state.  And then, that is totally me.

At this very moment, my daughter is hanging on my leg, crying because I’m half an hour past her nap time.  “Can you turn the oven light on, NOW??!!! I want to see my ‘T’ ornament cooking!!” is what I hear on my other side.  And as a mom, I think about all of the other things I’m not doing because I’m spending a few hours writing.  Two kids on my lap while writing helps me to remember.  I often type while nursing.  I don’t know what my typing speed is with a baby, but it’s not too shabby.

I write in bits and pieces.  I write after the kids go to bed, at 3 AM when I can’t sleep, while the baby colors all over herself in the other room, while my son accidentally pees on the floor.  If it all comes together and makes a shred of sense, I count that among many small miracles.

And when it’s finished and I finally click “send” on my email to the paper, life is good.  I actually finished something.  Dishes and laundry never end, but hey, that article?  It’s really, truly done.

I used to keep a journal.  I don’t know if I made an entry this year, though.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I enlisted myself to write every week for the paper, I’d never do it.  I’m thankful for a written record of these busy days. There is so much I’d forget otherwise.

And for the people reading, you’ve had a front seat to many moments in our 2012:
–Life in my husband’s hometown of Broadview, Montana.

–Preparing and planning our move of 1,000 miles back to Minnesota where I grew up.

–My two-year-old’s carpet exploits involving chocolate syrup and an iron.  (It’s true that the biggest messes make the best stories later on.

–Writing from a hospital room during that same little boy’s emergency hernia surgery.

–The moving odyssey of packing up 90% of our things and hauling them to MN, and then living in a bare bones house in MT for another six weeks while my husband finished a work project.

–Celebrating our 10th anniversary in our new home with a second wedding that included our kids.

Our kids acted as flower girls and ring bearers at the wedding celebrating our 10th anniversary.

Our kids acted as flower girls and ring bearers at the wedding celebrating our 10th anniversary.

–Gardening adventures in our very first, very gigantic family garden.

–The triumphs and tragedies of chickens mixing with kids.

–My life as a mom, of late nights and busy mornings.

–Loving the good things in life: clotheslines, libraries, blankets, time with family.

I hope that in the course of the year, I’ve made you smile or laugh.  I hope I reminded you of life with your own kids, the joys of life in a small town, and life in the country.  I hope I’ve touched your heart a time or two during my ramblings about the universal conditions of being human and a mother.

Since many of my family and friends live outside the area and don’t see the local MN papers, I started putting past articles on a blog.  If you’d like to go back and read a previous column, or share one with someone else, you can find them all on http://www.kathyschronicles.com.  I’d love to hear from you.  Feel free to tell me what you liked reading about, what you’d like to hear more about.  You can even tell me what bored you, as long as you do it politely.  You can write messages to me directly on this website.

Thanks for letting me share the adventures of our past year with you.  I don’t know what life will bring for us in 2013, but whatever comes our way, I’ll be sharing some of it with you here in the paper.  Hoping all of you had a wonderful Christmas, and wishing you health and happiness in the coming year!

Kathy

Are You Settled Yet?

The peaceful view from the front porch makes it easy to feel like we’re home.

“Are you settled yet?” Ever since we moved into our new place in late March, people every so often ask me that question. I never really know how to respond. What exactly does it mean to be “settled”?

For some reason, I have this irrational, nagging fear that if I say yes to the question, somehow people will instantly have x-ray vision into my house, where they’ll scan our rooms with a tally sheet and determine scientifically if we are indeed settled or not.

And when they walk in, they’ll see how I never really got my summer clothes out of the laundry baskets and hung up in the closet, see the boxes stacked in the toy room, notice that our stuff in the attic and basement doesn’t get addressed, and my perennial garden is really mostly a weed patch. Seeing all the “someday” projects, there will be an official woman in a schoolmarm outfit with a tight bun in her hair saying, “Ah ha! It appears as though someone’s NOT really settled, are they!” And then hanging my head, I’d receive my ten demerits.

These guys have many friends up in the attic, all waiting for some attention several months after moving.

If “settled” means life is organized, like a nice, smooth running machine…well, then that answer is no. Not only am I not settled here at our new home, but I’d have to say by that definition, I maybe haven’t been settled in my whole adult life.

Maybe feeling settled means comfortably knowing all the back roads and every nook and cranny of your town. Then the answer to that is no, too. Our house is just on the far edge of the Lanesboro school district, so our kids go to school in a town that is still pretty new to me. Growing up north of St. Charles, Minnesota, the town of Lanesboro,  though just a half hour away, seemed like a quaint little town in a faraway distant land. Turns out, it’s not so distant at all, and now it’s home.

In Lanesboro, my kids now know exactly where to find ice cream, the school there has become pretty familiar, and I’m very well-acquainted with the city park and playground. But I know I’ve got a few years before I have that insider local knowledge of where to find all the really cool things. Someday, I’ll show people around the town and say things like, “Just past the house with the three-legged dog, and right before the crazy lady with 50 cats and a purple porch swing.” (I’m not sure that exists in Lanesboro, but please let me know if it does.)

I don’t mind not feeling settled in that way. In fact, I love it. I’ve both moved back home, and at the same time, to a new place. It’s the best of comfortable familiarity and the excitement of new things to discover. In so many ways, though, I look around and see a to-do list that reminds me that we are long from “settled.”

On the other hand, maybe the question “Are you settled yet?” really means, “Do you feel like you’re home? Do you breath a sigh of relief when you pull in the driveway after being gone?” And then, the answer to the question is a big, resounding “yes.” This is home.

The notion really struck me on Labor Day. During the lunch time downpour that day, our kids sat outside dry and cozy under the shelter of the porch roof, eating chicken noodle soup on the wicker loveseat, wrapped in blankets. We had a quiet, lazy morning, tired from a busy weekend of my sister’s move. I had absolutely no desire for anything or anywhere else but being right there.

Unfortunately, though, our baby girl was sick with a fever and I also suspected a bladder infection. I made the call to take her in, and I headed to Rochester with her.

Sometimes it’s fairly enjoyable to head to Rochester and run errands with my kids. This was not one of those days. Sometimes I hate Rochester. It’s not Rochester, per se, it’s really any big town. And perhaps hate is too strong of a word, but I do certainly enjoy leaving when I’m done. There is something about traffic, continual stoplights, and endless stores that drive me crazy.

Add that usual town tension to carrying an antsy baby into a waiting room with a dozen sick and/or injured people ahead of us, and I really just wanted out. Out of the waiting room, out of town, out to our porch to listen to rain in the rocking chair on the last day of summer vacation.

On the way home, the further I got from town, the happier I felt. Turning south heading out of Utica, I felt my shoulders loosen. I pulled into yard utterly relieved, and it struck me how much this place feels like home. Like a refuge. Three kids lined up on the steps to peek over the railing to see me pulling in the driveway, just the sight I wanted to see.

It was supper time and the bowls of chicken noodle soup still sat on the porch from lunch, but I’d have to say I feel settled into our busy, peaceful life out in the country. It’s nice that we’re alone out here, and at the same time, also feel like part of the community. There are still so many names to put to faces, and faces to put on places along the roads by our house. But after just moving in at Easter, we are thankful to know enough friendly neighbors to have a full night of trick-or-treating stops for our kids on Halloween.

I feel like I’ve planted my feet into the dirt up to my ankles, and I have no desire to go anywhere. It is awfully nice black dirt, after all. So to answer the question, “Are you settled yet?”, the answer is yes. When we pull into the driveway, our three-year-old no longer says, “There’s our new house!” He simply says, “We’re home!” And we are, unpacked boxes and all.

Uff Da! Becoming Minnesotan, Again

Written April 30, 2012.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve called myself a Minnesotan.  The last Minnesota driver’s license I had was ten years, two other state driver’s licenses, four kids, and one name change ago.

But now, here we are, back in the “Old Country,” as my Montana father-in-law calls this far off land of my origin.  We are in the midst of burning up the moving boxes and maybe staying put until we can retire on a tropical island.  So until that far off day when I can pass my time sipping mai tais in my muumuu, Minnesotans we will be.

When I lived out of state, in Montana as well as Washington and Pennsylvania, I always felt happy to say I grew up in Minnesota.  It’s just good to be from here.  People generally have a positive or at least neutral attitude about the land of 10,000 lakes.  If they falsely assume something about people in this state as a whole, it’s often assuming everyone is that homey, quirky, lovable, good-natured Lake Woebegon-like personification of “Minnesota Nice”.  And really, there are certainly worse stereotypes to overcome.

Even though I spent the first 20 years of my life here and came back on regular visits a few times a year, there is something different about once again calling Minnesota home.  And so for the last month, I’ve been once again taking in what it means to call myself a Minnesotan.

I don’t hug trees, but after living in dryland MT where trees are a precious commodity, I am quite in love with this big old oak tree that shades our sandbox and makes great tree swings.

MN Drive-Bys

Luckily, becoming a Minnesotan doesn’t require any sort of ritual gang initiation.  Wearing the wrong colors around here probably just means someone made the unfortunate mistake of being a green and gold Packer fan in Viking country, where everyone bleeds purple.

A “drive-by” in these parts just means the neighbors are driving by, and spontaneously pull into the yard to introduce themselves.  We’ve had several drive-bys.  One neighbor left us with tickets to the local church meatball dinner, which we happily accepted, and another drive-by incident led to a neighbor helping my husband unload some heavy shop equipment.  We like MN drive-bys.

Oooh that Accent

Growing up in MN, I really thought the whole Minnesoootan accent was a farse, or at least something that only existed in far northern Minnesota and in Hollywood movies.  When the movie Fargo came out, I remember feeling insulted seeing Minnesotans portrayed as simple-minded and hokey, speaking with way “oooo”verdone accents.  I mean, really, ooh geez, we dooon’t talk like that.

Or do we?  Living in other states for over a decade suddenly made the Minnesotan accent ring clearly in my ears when we moved back here.  For the first few weeks, especially in talking to people on the phone, that accent that sounded way overdone in the Fargo movie now seemed pretty accurate.  I’d get off the phone with the power company, repeat a few lines to my husband, and we’d both giggle at living in the land of 10,000 “ooos” and “yahs.”  The funny thing is, now a month later, I don’t really notice it as much.  Maybe it’s because I’m already reverting to my Minnesotan speech patterns, dooon’t cha knoow.

Uff Da!  Ya!

And speaking of Minnesotan words, uff da!  On a particularly windy day, the 6:00 news anchor commented, “Boy, it sure was windy.” An emphatic “Uff da!  Ya!” was the immediate response by the other news anchor.  I happened to hear it as I doled out supper, and burst out laughing.  I don’t believe I have heard an “Uff da! Ya!” as official news commentary in quite a while, maybe ever, but I do believe that I’m in my home state again.

I can’t drive 55.

When it comes to driving in MN, I’m not sure why, but my van just won’t drive only 55.  Maybe it started when I was always running late and speeding to high school back in the day.  Luckily, when I lived in Montana, where 70 mph is in fact the speed limit on rural two-lanes, I had a perfect fit for my natural lead foot inclinations.

But back in Minnesota now, heading down Hwy 14, my natural speed is still about 70.  Oops.  If you are highway patrol, please forgive the mini van with Montana plates.  I’m really pretty nice.  Can’t I still drive 70 if that is the legal speed where my vehicle is currently licensed?

Minnesotan Paradise

Speed limit aside, I’m in love with this place in a way that I don’t think I ever would be if I had never left.  When I was twenty, I was itching to get away from the familiarity of my hometown and MN life where I knew all the back roads and most of the people that lived on them.

I headed off to Montana for college because I needed to see what I was made of, and see if I could make a life for myself in an area where every sight, store, and citizen was an unknown.  I loved venturing off out west into the unknown, because I had the stability of a deeply-rooted MN upbringing as my foundation.

And now, after creating a life of my own in Montana and a few other states for the last 13 years, I’m happily back here again, with not just me, but my own family of six.  After checking out the grass in other places, the grass indeed is NOT greener on the side of the hill.

We loved the dry, rugged beauty of the Montana plains, but coming from Jarred’s hometown where we got on average just 13 inches of annual rain, we are both amazed to now be living in this green, bountiful paradise called Minnesota.

Some day, this will all feel commonplace to us, just like it did to me growing up here as a kid.  But right now, it still feels amazing to walk across our grass that is plush and soft and grows with no irrigation or fertilizing, sit under the shade of our massive oak tree that is just one of several hardwood shade trees in our yard, and gaze out at the rich, black soil that the farmers around here are busy planting.  Everything here in MN is so full of life.

Sitting next to our kids in the sandbox, even our sand here is amazing.  Sand that is easily found alongside the road is the softest, finest, prettiest white sand that any kid digging in a sandbox could ever ask for.

So while we’re still living in the chaos of unpacked boxes and we’ve already had a few opportunities to get acquainted with some all-too-friendly wood ticks, Uff Da! we are so happy to be in the process of becoming Minnesotans.

 © 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

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