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

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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

A Journey of 1,000 Miles Begins with a Little Panic and Denial

Written January 16, 2012.

Six weeks from now our plan is to move from Montana to Minnesota. That’s six weeks to pack up a family of six, pack up a welding shop full of gigantic tools and equipment, and tie up an infinite number of loose ends. Quite frankly, I don’t know yet how it’s all going to happen by that time. But I do know a few things for certain: I am utterly overwhelmed, a touch panicked, and still in a mild state of shock and denial that this move is real.

Six weeks from a big move, this box and all the others sit woefully empty.

I know the gravity of the short time frame of our move is sinking in because I simply can’t concentrate on anything. Add that to my usual sleep deprivation from a teething baby with a stuffy nose and a two-year old night roamer, and while I look like my usual self on the outside, on the inside I’m just running around yelling, “AAAHHHH!!!” with a bit of hand flailing thrown in for good measure. This week, I created the beginnings of five different columns. At some point, each one of them will probably make an appearance for your reading enjoyment.

None of those that I started to write, though, held my attention. The whole time that I worked on any one of them, one part of me was busy sorting out details of my topic at hand, but that voice screaming in panic about an impending move kept yelling, “How can you write about feeding the baby?!! Don’t you know that you should have something packed up by now?!” And so, here I am. I am finally succumbing to the voice in my head. Perhaps if I get all my demons down on paper, they won’t bother me as much.

Maybe six weeks to moving sounds like a far-off date, perhaps too far away to have that nagging nervous feeling. I am overwhelmed, though, because I’m a procrastinator and not an organizer by nature. Our Christmas cards are still patiently waiting to be sent out. Oops, I mean “New Year’s” cards. Good thing the message printed next to the photo says “Happy Holidays.” This year, I’ll take “holidays” to include Groundhog’s Day, as well.

Delayed Christmas cards aside, though, it’s not that I want to just put things off until the last minute. Procrastination was my modus operandi throughout college, and I still graduated with highest honors. It really is motherhood that is forcing me for the first time to become better at planning out life and getting things done before a deadline. With this impending cross country move, I fully realize the enormity of the task before us. Because of that, my modest goal last week was to start the packing process by boxing up the summer clothes in our bedroom. I envisioned a happy stack of boxes in the corner of our bedroom, patiently waiting to be put on a truck and driven to their new wonderful home in Minnesota. And guess what. A week went by, and I can count the number of boxes I packed not on one hand, but no hands. Zero boxes packed. Gulp.

This is where the utterly overwhelmed feeling becomes a touch panicked. How in the world is this house going to be empty six weeks from now? With at least three kids at home at any given time, the day to day routines more than fill a day. In the past week we were fortunate to have no new incidents of ironed, melted carpet. But of course, there are always the bowls of spilled cereal, wet beds that kids don’t mention until the next time they want to sleep in them, and oh yes, the great benevolent milk provider in the house (me) had to ward off a case of mastitis last week. All of this makes me think wistfully of our newlywed days, when we made a 2,700 mile move from Poulsbo, WA to State College, PA by ditching our crappy second-hand furniture and moving ourselves in just our two cars. I don’t think today that we could even pack the kids’ toys in two cars.

These boxes might require a little reinforcement, but the essentials inside are ready to go.

While I swim in a sea of mild panic, organization and a plan of action also come hard because we are frankly in a state of shock about it all. It’s been nearly three years since we started looking at real estate in MN, and about five years since we started throwing around ideas about making a change from our lives here in Broadview, MT. Last year at this time, we thought Osseo, WI was our next home. We had a signed purchase agreement on a business property there, but then encountered road blocks at every step of the way, and what seemed like nearly a done deal eventually dissolved. But now, we officially own a home on acreage south of Utica, MN and I still can’t really believe it. After working so hard toward this move back to the midwest for so many years, we can’t quite wrap our heads around the fact that it really is happening. Finally! This is real.

Of course, as soon as I tell myself “this is real,” the other part of me says, “no, not really.” For eight years, Broadview, Montana has been home. Home. We can’t really be moving. Our kids were all born at home, right here in this little tiny town. Montana born and bred little tikes, they are. They regularly call up Grandma and Grandpa and invite them across the street to our house for supper or Saturday morning buttermilk pancakes. Our oldest daughter dearly loves her best friend, the only other girl in their kindergarten class of three. Our 4-year-old and our 2-year-old each have cousins here just their age. That means our kids could grow up, play with, and get in all sorts of trouble with cousins in their close knit classes at school.

But wait, that’s not going to happen. As completely overjoyed as I am about making this move back to Minnesota, I also completely dread saying goodbye. I hate long-term goodbyes enough that I often avoid them altogether. In six weeks, though, I am going to say goodbye for now to all of the family and friends that have made Broadview, Montana a great place to call home. We will head east 1,000 miles to Minnesota, back to where I grew up, where our family and friends there will help make our new house become the place we call…home.

© 2012