Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Puking Children‏

Memories of last year’s road trip…Alone in the middle of nowhere with puke, diarrhea, sick crying baby, mess, four kids to care for and still 700 miles of driving to go before home…now this is livin’.

After a week of jam-packed family time in Montana, we are HOME! Yesterday we pulled into our driveway at 5 AM after 16 hours on the road.  (Wrote this after Thanksgiving 2013.)

Wide open views from the (in town) backyard of my husband's parents in Montana.

Wide open views from the (in town) backyard of my husband’s parents in Montana.

By all-nighter road trip standards, we had a great trip: dry roads the whole way, no close calls with deer, no road construction, no vehicle issues whatsoever, no sick kids. And for all of that, I am very thankful.

By ordinary living standards, it is pretty miserable: crammed van stuffed with people, Christmas presents, and luggage, not enough leg room, tired kids that cry when street lights pass over, feeling too hot then too cold over and over again, two exhausted parents that don’t feel like driving but just want to get home, just under 1,000 miles to cover.

When we finally arrived home, we carried the kids into their beds, and felt thankful for winter darkness at 5 AM that let us sneak our kids into bed and keep them sleeping for a few more hours. After riding in constant motion for 16 hours on the road, when I flopped into our bed, that nice, flat, motionless bed felt like it was moving.

I’m glad I’m not a trucker. I’m also glad this isn’t last year’s road trip.

Last year my husband Jarred stayed in Montana a little after Thanksgiving to work on a scale project. That meant when it was time to saddle up and head back to Minnesota to take the kids back to school, I performed the feat of hauling four kids from Montana to Minnesota by myself. Last year, my oldest was 6 and the youngest just 19 months. For extra challenge, we added in stomach flu.

When this was fresh in my mind last year, my husband hadn’t arrived home yet, so I didn’t really want to publicize that I was home alone with four kids, and I never did write about it. Nothing like sitting in a van for hours on end, though, to bring back those fond memories that really are just too good to not share…

Last year’s solo road trip went fairly smoothly for the first few hours. I left at nap time and the kids all rested. A few hours in, I congratulated myself for rigging up our DVD player with the plastic tie from a garbage bag, which enabled the kids to see the screen and be content, which of course, meant I could drive.

About an hour later, somewhere on Hwy 212 east of Broadus, MT, on the stretch of road that is about 100 miles of no civilization, stomach flu kicked in for my baby. I heard a gurgling sound, and looked in my rear view mirror to see her puking all over herself and her car seat. I immediately pulled over and put on my flashers, although I don’t recall if anybody ever actually drove past.

Here are a few realities of puke in a vehicle:
1. Car seats have bottomless crevices.
2. Baby wipes become both bath tub and washing machine.
3. Smell permeates quickly and lingers indefinitely in a confined area.

I cleaned up the poor little girl, stripping off her dirty clothes and bagging them in a plastic sack. I scooped up chunks and wiped down her car seat with copious amounts of baby wipes. And I really wished it had been just puke, but it was an all-inclusive stomach flu, so I also had to change her leaky messy (and very smelly) diaper as well.

Alone in the middle of nowhere with puke, diarrhea, sick crying baby, mess, four kids to care for and still 700 miles of driving to go before home…now this is livin’.

After that episode, I managed to crank out a few more hours of driving, but by 7 PM in Rapid City, I was completely spent. We checked into a hotel and after wrangling check-in, luggage, and settling down kids in unfamiliar beds, we went to sleep.

Four kids hanging out in the hotel with Mom.  As you might guess from all the smiles, this was not the trip with the stomach flu.

Four kids hanging out in the hotel with Mom. As you might guess from all the smiles, this was not the trip with the stomach flu.

Kids are early risers, and by 6 AM with everyone awake, we dressed in swimming suits and headed to the hotel indoor pool. A little relaxing in water, hot tub, and water slide made the thought of a day full of driving a little more bearable. That combined with some waffles, and we felt ready for another day on the road.

I forget the details, but picture an endless day in South Dakota alternating keeping peace, passing out snacks, making gas stops and cranking out miles.

Needing a break at supper time, we pulled into the McDonald’s in Worthington, MN. Normally, I hate McDonald’s and its Play Place with claustrophobia-inducing tunnels that smell like stinky feet and chicken nuggets. That night, though, I was thankful for a spot for the kids to run around and play while being contained.

Just when I thought we’d have a little down time, stomach flu hit again.

I hauled my little three-year-old son into the bathroom with a terrible mess in his pants. While my two oldest kids played in the Play Place (and I felt paranoid about not being able to watch them), I cleaned up my son in the McDonald’s bathroom. Meanwhile, I tried to keep my baby from touching anything gross in the public restroom. And of course, everything in a public restroom at toddler height is pretty gross.

By the time he seemed clean again, I’d used half a package of baby wipes. I bagged up the wipes along with the completely filthy pants and threw it all in the garbage. No pair of handed down sweat pants is worth the cleaning effort at that point in a long road trip.

I just consider those pants an offering to the road trip gods. The McDonald’s bathroom garbage seems like an appropriate place to make an offering to road trips gods, right? Every time I go past Worthington, MN, I think of those pants. In my head, they’re still sitting in the garbage can. I hope they’re not.

I dressed my little boy in clean clothes, we all washed our hands very thoroughly, and my kids had a little play time before the last four hours on the road. You know when you’ve been on the road for a while when “just four more hours” sounds like a relief.

At our last gas station stop of the trip, I refueled and went inside the store to quickly grab milk and eggs for home. Milk and eggs are essentials for survival at our house.

I walked inside to find only one half gallon of milk in the entire store. With a crew of avid milk drinkers, a half gallon of milk is a joke. When the cashier told me they had no eggs left, that was the point in the trip that I about lost it.

Throughout that trip, I really tried to just be calm and roll with whatever came up: puke, yelling, crying…I knew we’d all survive all that. But after 30 hours alone on the road with four kids, I really just wanted to punch the guy who had no eggs. That was my last straw.

When I get gas, I don’t need 25 kinds of energy drinks or 50 kind of tobacco, and my kids don’t eat lottery tickets. But, I really do need milk and eggs, especially on the tail end of a 950-mile trip.

All frustrations, sickness, and exhaustion aside, we arrived home safely that night. Road trip mission accomplished. I tucked four kids into their own beds at home and for several days after, I held down the fort, but was pretty much worthless.

Last year’s trip was definitely a feat of motherhood endurance.

And today, I’m once again exhausted after a long road trip. But all in all, I’m thankful for the relative easiness of this road trip compared to the one last year at this time.

More than anything, despite the inevitable exhaustion that comes with these trips, I am committed to what these road trips mean: connection with family. With my husband’s family in Montana and mine in Minnesota, we’ve committed to a lifetime of road trips in order to keep connections with family that we love.

Being held by Great Grandpa Thelmer on Thanksgiving morning is just fine.

Being held by Great Grandpa Thelmer on Thanksgiving morning is just fine.

gingerbread house tag team

Five cousins show off their completed houses.

Five cousins show off their completed houses.

Exhausting road trips mean hugs from Great Grandma and Grandpa, making gingerbread houses with Montana cousins, eating breakfasts with Grandma and Grandpa, my kids watching Grandma sew their Christmas blankets, and countless hours playing and reconnecting.

And for that, neither snow, nor rain, nor puking children will stop us from hitting the road.

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Over the Missouri and Across the Plains to Grandmother’s House We Go

At night, I sometimes love South Dakota. The majority of the tacky tourist signs have no lights, so they just fade away. . . .It’s nothing but empty highway surrounded by wide open prairie under a starry black sky. 

Thanksgiving for us means loading up our van and heading 950 miles west to Broadview, Montana. Instead of making the trip in two days, we crank it out in one long blur of a night. We load up the kids, luggage, snacks and coffee, and hop on I-90 west.

The kids get “comfy,” which means arguing about foot placement, head space, blankets, heat, and noise, then laugh giddily, yell in tired frustration, listen to several rounds of “shh….it’s time to go to sleep,” and then finally drifting off one by one to a mediocre at best night of sleep in the van.

And then we drive, and drive, and drive…over the Missouri River and across the plains, to grandmother’s house we go.

It’s a long way from SE Minnesota to SE Montana, but we make this trek at least twice a year to see family. Our trek used to start in Montana and end in Minnesota, and for the last year and a half since moving into our new home, we’ve swapped starting points.

As exhausting as it is to make an over-the-road trucker trek with four kids in tow, there is also something exciting about it all. Our home is now in Minnesota, but heading to Montana feels like heading home. After living there for about 12 years, I just get excited when we start heading west. I love the change of scenery, wide open spaces, and the fresh perspective that comes from time hitting the road.

Granted, sometimes that excitement is pretty covered over in exhaustion of packing up a family of six to be gone for a week.

It’s a never ending packing list, combined with four anxious kids that keep asking “Why can’t we just leave NOW?!”, completely oblivious to the fact that we can’t just let the supper dishes and milk sit out on the table for a week or so until we get back.

And by the time we pull in to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Montana, we’re mostly just a shell of our usual selves: fried, edgy, tired.

In the midst of the all-night road trip, though, there is a period of “golden hours” that I really do love.

The golden hours are when we hit South Dakota. Now, if you’ve ever driven across South Dakota, you’d probably agree with me that it’s generally not a state to be excited about. On I-90, it’s a 400-mile stretch of grass land at varying elevations, interrupted with an excessive amount of road signs suggesting you visit a reptile garden, or a pioneer something or other, or a drug store-turned tourist attraction.

At night, though, I sometimes love South Dakota. The majority of the tacky tourist signs have no lights, so they just fade away. It’s nothing but a long stretch of mostly straight highway. At 2 AM, the traffic is almost non-existent. Driving along at the 75 mph speed limit, I sometimes go six minutes before I see a car on either side of the highway. And while the kids and my husband sleep, it’s nothing but empty highway surrounded by wide open prairie under a starry black sky. It’s so peaceful.

That’s when I love South Dakota. It’s when I think I’d be quite content to have a house plunked out in the middle of all that nothingness, where as far as you look, you can’t see a single light but your own headlights.

South Dakota at 2 AM is my thinking time. Driving along at night is one of the few times that I am completely alone with my thoughts. Nobody else is there (awake, anyway), and there are no other distractions to fill my head.

Almost invariably, it makes me think of the very first time I headed west to go to college. Just barely 20, I loaded up my Buick that I bought from money earned working the night shifts over several summers at Lakeside Foods. I drove alone to Bozeman, Montana to start my junior year of college.

When the Buick and I arrived safe and sound in Bozeman, I didn’t know a single person in the state of Montana.

It’s amazing to me to ponder how that trip out west for college started a whole sequence of events that lead me to the point of today. College, marriage, and four kids later, we now make treks to Montana as a family of six.

As I drive along, my head sorts through six months of life since our last trip. If I had some sort of device to convert mental thoughts to words on a computer, I’d have about six weeks of articles all completed. As it is though, by the time the night ends, my mind is fried and I can’t remember all the thoughts I had in my head.

Maybe my mind is slightly fried because we’ve had five cases of strep throat at our house in the last ten days.

The bad news: five of us had strep throat in the last ten days, just before a big road trip.  The good news: my daughter has great imagination and coordination to arrange empty medicine syringes to look like rockets, telling me "One, two, three...blast off!"

The bad news: five of us had strep throat in the last ten days, just before a big road trip. The good news: my daughter has great imagination and coordination to arrange empty medicine syringes to look like rockets, telling me “One, two, three…blast off!”

In the time before I get too tired and switch off driving with my husband, I’m thankful for the fullness of my life. I can’t say I’m thankful for strep throat, but I’m grateful that the sickness in my house is an easy fix with basic antibiotics.

And on this nearly thousand mile road trip, I’m thankful for clear roads, no deer on the highway, and most of all, the families that continually give us a wonderful reason to make road trips back and forth to Montana and Minnesota. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

Seven Lessons Learned in Seven Days‏

Children possess uncanny permanent marker detection…just one of the life lessons I learned this week.

Life’s been especially busy around here lately. My husband spent a week in Montana working on a scale monitoring system project while I took care of the kids at home. In the busyness, there’s plenty of opportunity for learning. Here are some lessons I learned in the last week:

Laying down together under the warm heat lamp, the new lamb and our three-year old.

Laying down together under the warm heat lamp, the new lamb and our three-year old.

Bears Knock Down Pictures
Our youngest child recently turned two. Every day, her growing vocabulary and creative exploits tell us more and more that she definitely is no longer a baby, but a real, live two-year-old. One of her most recent “milestones” is learning to stretch the truth.

A few days ago, I didn’t pick her up out of her crib right away when she woke up. With a few minutes to kill, she filled her time by undressing herself and emptying her crib of blankets.

I also noticed the picture that normally hangs above her bed was missing, so I asked her what happened. She looked at me very seriously, shook her head, and with a disgusted look, said, “Bear knocked it down, Mom.” Oh, the teddy bear did it. Of course.

If only baby books had a spot to record “Child’s First Fib.” I can’t say my heart swelled with pride, but I was a bit impressed by her convincing delivery. I’m sure with time, she’ll improve on her technique, and stop blaming her mishaps on inanimate objects like teddy bears.

Children Possess Uncanny Permanent Marker Detection
It’s a well-known truth that a bag left unattended will receive little attention from a child, unless it contains something inside that a child shouldn’t touch. Yesterday, my husband left his laptop bag on the floor. The laptop bag is a familiar sight, one that doesn’t generally draw much attention from our kids.

However, this time it happened to contain a blue Sharpie marker deep within.

While I was in the kitchen doing dishes, my busy two-year-old walked in to tell me, “Need a bath, Mom.” I turned around to see her, bare from the waist down, legs covered in long blue streaks that reached from one foot, up her leg, across, and down to her foot on the other side. She also had a big lovely patch of blue on her lower back.

This is a girl who loves the bathtub, and I do believe the coloring episode may have been premeditated with that end result in mind. I incorrectly assumed, however, that she used our kid-friendly washable markers. After she soaked for half an hour and still had bright blue streaks, I realized the marker was a permanent one.

After a little more questioning, she showed us the marker in her super secret spot behind the couch. She of course left the cap off, drying out the marker so we can no longer use it. The blue stripes of her body art, however, look as though they will last for quite some time.

Good tires are Worth the Money
On my husband’s drive to Montana last week, he drove through a big icy section in South Dakota. In one particularly bad spot where several cars lined the I-90 ditches, he lost traction and slid into the ditch himself.

We generally give very little thought to our car because we use it so rarely, and we were both amazed when we realized how old the tires were. After the ditch episode, our car received some much needed attention in the form of four new tires.

On Jarred’s trip home, he again encountered a long icy stretch in South Dakota. This time, however, the roads were even worse. Once again he drove past ditches lined with cars, but this time, his tires gripped the road and he arrived home safely. Good tires are worth the expense.

I Can’t Do It All
In the week while my husband worked in Montana, I held down the fort at home. I fed lots of things: our four kids, the fire in the wood burner, the goats, the bottle lamb, the chickens, the cats, and the dog. I cooked, cleaned, and kept life moving on as normal. Single parenthood is tough, even when it’s temporary.

I knew the extra workload and stress took it’s toll when, at the end of the week, I got a bad cold and ached all over. Even more telling was the fact that nobody else even had a sniffle.

Boring Anniversaries are Wonderful
On Saturday we celebrated our 11th anniversary. We pondered getting a babysitter and going out to dinner, but I was wiped out, and so was my husband after his road trip. We simply stayed home. All of us enjoyed the rare sunshine and nice weather that day, and we ate an easy meal of leftover chili for supper. We didn’t even get to our low key plans of watching a movie together on the couch, thanks to a certain two-year-old who had a rare rough night falling asleep.

After the big party we had last year where we renewed our vows, our kids were a little disappointed that our anniversary just seemed like a regular day. My husband and I, in contrast, thought it was a great day. A week apart gave us both renewed appreciation for each other, and we were happy to crash at the end of the day in the same bed.

Blessings Come in Strange Packages
On Sunday morning, I shook my head in disbelief at once again seeing a world of wintry white outside. I already felt sapped of energy from being a little sick, and the snow just made me feel exhausted as I pondered getting everyone ready and out the door in time for Sunday School and church.

Blessings, though, come is strange packages. Our neighbor called and jokingly wished us “Merry Christmas” and also told us that church was cancelled because of the weather. Instead of rushing out the door in the morning, I headed upstairs and filled up the bathtub. I soaked away the congestion, aches, and all of life’s tensions for about an hour. The magic of warm steamy water and a husband downstairs acting as ring leader of a cleaning operation greatly improved life. Turns out, the snow was just what I needed that morning. It was an unexpected blessing.

Persistence Pays Off
Lamba Lamba Ding Dong is our newest little project around here. He came from our neighbors who are too busy to feed a late-arriving bottle lamb. He arrived as a scrawny little thing that didn’t do anything but lay under the heat lamp and barely drink part of his bottle. A few weeks later, his growing body is filling out his skin, and he runs and greets us at the gate at feeding time. On nice days, our kids take Lamby outside and he follows them around like a loyal puppy.

A child shall lead them: Spot and our other "dog," Lamby, following their buddy.

A child shall lead them: Spot and our other “dog,” Lamby, following their buddy.

While the bottle feedings 3-4 times a day get tiresome, I do have to say that I’m a momma that loves seeing something grow from my care. It’s one of the most gratifying parts of my job. Nurturing definitely has it’s rewards.

Lamb, kids, tires, anniversaries ..that’s some of my life’s learning for this week. I just hope next week’s lessons don’t involve any more sniffles or permanent markers.

Written April 2013.

Sunburns, Easter Eggs, and Amazing Grace

What in the world?!  There’s an antelope standing out there on the street!

If I can say that and it sounds believable on the morning of April Fool’s Day, I’m either A) in Montana or B) surrounded by people that could use some morning coffee.  Both A and B are correct.  We headed off to Montana the week before Easter to fill up on a dose of our Montana family that we’ve all been missing.

When left our house in MN to head off on the trip, I cautiously left behind our kids’ snow pants.  Leaving a yard completely covered in white, taking no snow pants felt a little risky.  As I drove across western South Dakota on an I-90 thickly covered in a sheet of ice, I again questioned my decision.

Snow-covered mountain plateaus in the distance and sweeping views on our drive on the snowy Hwy 212 in south-eastern Montana.

Snow-covered mountain plateaus in the distance and sweeping views on our drive on the snowy Hwy 212 in south-eastern Montana.

By the time we pulled into the driveway at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Broadview, Montana, though, our kids were wondering why I didn’t think to pack their spring jackets.

We all know the heady rush of joy of feeling a 50 degree day for the very first time in the spring.  Imagine, then, what a few 60 degree days with blue sky and sunshine did for our kids (ok, and Mom and Dad, too).  With new kid-sized garden shovels in hand from the bargain bin, they struck out for Grandma’s perennial garden, making dirt fly.  I believe no tulips were harmed, but I can’t be certain of that.

Then they headed to the West side of her house where the grass never grows, and spent an afternoon cooking mud pies.  My three-year-old  gave me his detailed “recipe” if I wanted to try it later.  That evening, our kids came in with rosy cheeks and a fresh sprinkling of freckles on their cheeks.

Our oldest daughter even had a light sunburn.  Here I wondered about snow pants, when I should have packed the sunscreen.

The next day we met up with a friend (and former neighbor) to catch up over coffee while our kids ran around playing.  The temperature soared to the mid 60’s, and that, of course, is cause for shorts early on in the year.  Our two littlest kids shed their shirts as they played in the dirt pile out back behind my friend’s house, rubbing their bellies in the sunshine when the shirts came off.

Temps in the 60s: No shirt needed when digging in dirt while in MT.

Temps in the 60s: No shirt needed when digging in dirt while in MT.

After endless piles of snow and cold temps, I felt like we’d headed off on a tropical vacation.  We just headed to Montana to see our family, but the unexpected warm temperatures and sunshine?  Just what the doctor ordered.

In the melee of cousins, friends, and playing, a more somber note intermixed with it all as my mother-in-law made countless phone calls and trips to town to help organize her mother’s funeral.  After many years of painful illness, we all believe Grandma Carol is now at peace.  On Saturday, tucked right in between Good Friday and Easter, we attended her memorial service.

It was a touching moment to see my husband, his brother, father, and uncle stand together up front to play guitar and sing “Amazing Grace” and “Children of the Heavenly Father” during his grandma’s service.  The second song had special meaning as a song that was also played during Grandma Carol’s mother’s funeral (my husband’s great-grandmother).

Funerals are gathering places of family, and we caught up with my husband’s extended family, held his cousin’s new baby girl, heard about an engagement, and just reconnected with family that we never get to see often enough.

After the funeral, we gathered at my husband’s brother’s house on Mosdal Road.  Yes, the road has the family name.  We had amazing homemade pasta.  Most importantly, our kids learned a valuable lesson from their older cousins:  a package of Mentos candies shoved into a 2-liter bottle of pop make a terrific fountain.  The 10-foot geyser of pop on the gravel road was, no surprise, a definite crowd pleaser.

Mentos candies plus a bottle of pop and some cousins equals lots of fun.

Mentos candies + a bottle of pop + cousins = lots of fun.

Easter Sunday came with all the usual: clean, new Easter outfits, chocolate candy that streaks Easter outfits, church, loads of ham, a full house of family, and of course…THE hunt.  The Easter egg Hunt is a big deal in this family.  Like ripping open presents on Christmas morning, it’s a 10-minute event that kids wait for all year.

My sister-in-law and her husband live on “the home farm” where his grandparents used to live.  Hiding the Easter eggs used to be his grandfather’s favorite thing all year.  My brother-in-law told how he and his brothers used to find well-hidden eggs all summer long when they were kids running around on the ranch. That said, I’m sure as this new generation of pint-sized kids tore around the yard on the hunt for eggs, his grandpa, Carl, would have been quite pleased with it all.

Surveying the egg hunt on the ranch.

Surveying the egg hunt on the ranch.

Today, Easter candy mostly gone and leftover ham in the fridge, we are heading back home to Minnesota.  We will attempt to find and pack the stray socks and shirts that our kids scattered throughout Grandma’s house.  My three-year-old hook-obsessed son packed up his new treasure box: a small cardboard box filled with new key chain and carabiner treasures gleaned (with permission) from his grandparents.

We’ll head out on I-90 East hauling our crew back home.  Our kids are also picked up some souvenir coughs and runny noses from the latest germ bug in Montana.  We’ll leave behind their baby cousin, although my five-year-old did wish we could bring her and maybe just keep her little and cute forever.

With some luck, creative parenting, and a whole lot of patience, we’ll trek across 1,000 miles.  Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, we will pull into our driveway in Minnesota.  Our own beds will never feel better, and we’ll hopefully be filled with enough Montana family time to last us until the next trip west.

Thanksgiving in Montana: In Numbers and Pictures

With half of our family living in another state, long distance road trips followed by marathon family visits are the norm.  When we only make the trips about twice a year, there is a desire to try to fill up a half a year’s worth of family interaction in just a week.  When it comes time to leave again, it’s never quite enough, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

This Thanksgiving, we made the trip to Montana.  Like many other trips, when we first saw our teenage nieces and nephews, I had a few moments of disbelief at how much all of them have grown.  In my head, I sometimes still picture them in their preschool size, but the reality is, almost all of them are now taller than me.  That really can’t be, and I have no idea how it happened.  We all exchange a few “I can’t believe how tall you are/how long your hair is/how long those legs are,” and settle into getting to know again the new versions of the family we love.

On our big family trips, the specific people gathered and the events vary, but every trip involves multiple big gatherings for family meals, plenty of sitting around together, and kids running through all of it.  After a week or so, we head home.  At the end, it’s all a busy blur, and the days and meals run together, but it’s just enough to get us through until the next time we can see our family in person.  As I write this, we are wrapping up our trip and preparing to make the drive back to Minnesota.  It’s always bittersweet to leave.  There’s the excitement of knowing we’ll soon sleep in our own beds again, but there’s the sadness in knowing that pulling away from Grandma’s house means we won’t get to see our family in Montana again for several months.

In that time, we’ll miss countless daily events in their lives, but we’ll have all sorts of stories to tell the next time we see each other again.  And in the middle while we wait, phone calls, text messages, and facebook help fill the gaps.

As I gather up our things to leave for MN, I took stock of our Thanksgiving trip in a few numbers…
1,000–Miles to drive each way.

Wide views of blue sky during the sunrise on Thanksgiving morning in Broadview, Montana.

Wide views of blue sky during the sunrise on Thanksgiving morning on Comanche Flat, south of  Broadview, Montana.

24–Family members gathered together on Thanksgiving day.

Our baby takes a Thanksgiving nap on Dad just before the big meal.

Our baby takes a Thanksgiving nap on Dad just before the big meal.

5–(At least) meals of turkey dinners over the days.  Yum.

4–Month-old niece, with adorably thick hair and blue eyes, that we all finally got to see and hold for the first time.

My three-year-old happily asked to hold his newest cousin several times, "Aww, she's so cute!"

My three-year-old happily asked to hold his newest cousin several times, “Aww, she’s so cute!”

3.1–Miles that I ran in Billings, Montana during the Run, Turkey, Run! race on Thanksgiving morning before the big feast.

On Thanksgiving morning I ran a 5k and got to enjoy a complimentary beer afterward, all before ten in the morning.  With the proceeds going to the food bank, I think this may be my new holiday tradition!

On Thanksgiving morning I ran a 5k and got to enjoy a complimentary Dirty Girl beer afterward, all before ten in the morning. With the proceeds going to the food bank, I think this may be my new holiday tradition!

2–Nieces baptized on Sunday, through a series of clever last-minute arrangements.

A big family crowd watched our two nieces get baptized over the holiday weekend.

A big family crowd watched our two nieces get baptized over the holiday weekend.

1–Snowfall, making my kids very happy for their first time playing in snow for this winter season.

Add to that countless smiles and laughs, a few tears, a couple of kid tantrums, and a great glass of wine with my mother-in-law.
It all adds up to great memories of this year’s Thanksgiving with our family in Montana.

An early Christmas present puppet theatre makes a very happy girl.

An early Christmas present puppet theatre makes a very happy girl.

12 Things I’m Thankful for During a Day in 2012

By the time most people read this, the turkey will be picked over and someone will already be trampled from a Black Friday shopping rush. As I write this, though, it’s just a quiet Monday morning before Thanksgiving. We’re contentedly hanging out at Grandma’s house, in Broadview, Montana. Yep, over the Missouri River and across the prairie, to Grandmother’s house we go. A few days after our all-night driving trek, we’re still wiped out, but very happy to be here.

While 1,000 miles between our families is a big odyssey with four kids in tow, what I love is that no matter if we are heading east to Minnesota or west to Montana, it feels like we are going home. Family is home. We cheer when we finally hit Montana on the way west, and we cheer when we finally hit Minnesota on the drive back east.

To be completely honest, though, I have absolutely no desire to sit in front of the laptop and write this morning. We’ve been waiting for months to see our family here in Montana, and all I want to do is just hang out and play. It’s been six busy months since we last visited family in Montana, several of us moved into different homes during that time, and a baby was born. But right now we are in the midst of that great, but all too short, time of getting to see everyone in person again.

After the overnight drive I’m still groggy and a little rough around the edges, but I’m happy to be here for Thanksgiving, the holiday focused on gratitude. I could fill a book with the many people and things that I’m grateful for, but right now, I’m just thinking of today. So as I’m sitting here, I’m counting my blessings for what I have, this very day.

I’m Thankful For:

1. Church Bursting with Kids–The Broadview Lutheran Church, with a usual Sunday congregation of 5-8 people, swelled with our extended family. We had ten young Mosdal cousins hanging out there together, including our four kids. A zoo of children is a happy sight in my world.

2. A New Baby–Four months after she was born, I finally saw my new niece for the first time. The newest little cousin in the family has an amazing shock of thick reddish brown hair, sweet blue eyes, and perfect creamy white skin. I got to hold her and snuggle with her long enough to soak in some of that baby goodness, and my kids, her cousins, held her and proudly proclaimed “she’s so cute.” We also watched her little fingers grab for the homemade cinnamon rolls at church. Obviously, she’s got good taste.

3. Ice Cream with Great-Grandparents–Noticeably absent on Sunday at church were two long-time church goers: my husband’s grandparents, Grace and Thelmer. Three months ago, they moved off the farm and into assisted living. On Sunday afternoon we brought our kids to the ice cream social where they now live. Grace and Thelmer enjoyed seeing four kids devouring ice cream, and they beamed with pride as other people walked by and asked about the kids. We enjoyed seeing that they now live in a nice little apartment and have three meals a day (plus cookie time snacks) provided. It was good for all of us.

4. Early Coffee With In-laws. Our kids are still on Minnesota time, despite losing all sorts of sleep on the drive. The kids are up and at ’em around five AM, even though they go to bed late the night before. It’s a busy, bustling breakfast time with hungry, chattering squirrels waiting for food, but eating breakfast with Grandma and Grandpa just makes it all feel festive, even if we are all tired. And the coffee and pancakes? Superb.

Sleepy eyes peek into the bowl to watch Grandma mixing waffles early in the morning.

Sleepy eyes peek into the bowl to watch Grandma mixing waffles early in the morning.

5. Napping Baby–After several long days, our 19 mo. old finally crashed for a real nap this morning. Seeing her peacefully recharging her batteries makes me feel more rested, even if I don’t get a nap myself.

6. Craft time with Grandma–It’s a simple thing, but our kids hanging out at the kitchen table putting together craft foam snowmen with Grandma is a lot of fun. We all just need time together.

7. Cashews, not a Hernia–Our three-year-old’s love affair with cashews drove him to bring his little snack bowl over three times to get a pile of cashews from me. At the time he was eating, I was distracted by other things, and it didn’t dawn on me that the quantity he ate was a fair bit beyond normal preschool cashew capacity. Later on, tummy trouble made that fact fairly obvious. In the midst of him crying that his tummy hurt, I couldn’t help but be thankful that this stomach pain was only from too much of a good thing. The last time he cried about his tummy, he needed emergency hernia surgery. I’ll take the cashews. In fact, I’ll probably just take the cashews away.

8. Uncles on Horses–In the afternoon, I glanced out the front door and to my amazement, Jarred’s brother was outside on horseback, with his second horse following on a rope. He’d ridden into town from their place out in the country, and he gave our kids their very first horse ride. Seeing our animal-loving 19 mo. old’s eyes light up at seeing the horses, and then happily take a little ride with her uncle was pretty priceless.

9. Friends Across the Street–My six-year-old daughter headed kitty-corner across the street from grandma’s house this afternoon to her friend’s house. The two little girls wrote letters back and forth from MN and MT over the summer, and today they played together in person once again.

10. Run, Turkey, Run–Today I discovered a Thanksgiving run in Billings, MT. My new Turkey Day plan is to take the short drive to Billings on Thanksgiving morning, run a 5k among silly people in turkey costumes, drink my free pint of ale post-race (you know, replenish any calories burned), and be back to Broadview with plenty of time to consume the required gigantic Thanksgiving meal. Runners are often a crazy, quirky lot, and runners in turkey gear just sounds too good to miss. Best of all, the run benefits the local food bank. It’s a win/win for everyone.

11. Van-Free for 36 Hours. After spending long, grinding hours in the van during the last few days, we parked the van and gave it a much needed rest. I informed my kids that we were not leaving Grandma’s house today, and there would be no driving. At all. Staying put never felt so good.

12. Bedtime. After baths, pajamas gymnastics, several repeat offenders on bathroom and drink requests, all the kids finally got in bed. Two big kids finally fell asleep on their living room couch “beds,” two little ones fall asleep on their beds in the guest room, and the house bursting with people is suddenly fairly quiet. And that, my friends, is cause for thanks-giving.

Wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Road Trippin’ Just Isn’t What it Used to Be

Written May 14, 2012

Back in college, hearing the words “Road Trip!” instantly evoked a rush of excited emotion.  The freedom of the open road and the promise of new discovery lured me like the Sirens’ call.  Something about blue sky, sunshine, a long stretch of open highway, and good driving tunes made life feel limitless and free, and love of a good road trip was partly what drove me to attend a college far from home in Bozeman, Montana.

While going to school out in Bozeman, road trips were a standard part of my non-classroom college life curriculum.  With many long stretches of road between towns in Montana, driving long distances is the norm.  In my social circle of Montana natives and farm kids from a few other states, it felt pretty normal to spontaneously hop in someone’s pickup and cruise back roads if nothing better was going on.  Friends, music, a cold drink, jerky, and some gravel roads always felt like a perfectly fine way to spend a Saturday night.

Most of those late night cruises had no destination, just ample time squished together to hash out all of life’s details.  Somewhere, somebody has a “Dead End” sign in the back of their garage as a momento of one of those evenings, but what I mostly took from those nights is good memories of a time when I lived with four of my best friends and our lives were wide open with a world of possibilities.

In addition to the those late night meanderings, we embarked on a few Big (with a capital “B”) Road Trips.  Stored away in the college section of my memories are the trips with a car full of friends on spring break travels to Southern California, Las Vegas, and a Thanksgiving trip to Denver.  Broke, with just enough money to split the gas, we scouted out the cheap hotel rooms and food, but were utterly happy with the heady taste of freedom, fresh and new, all around us.

And now, fast forward ten years after college graduation.  (In the movie version of my life, you’d hear that screeching sound of a record player scratching to a stop.)  My college roommates are off in other places, married, all with kids.  And speaking of kids, my road trips these days have a decidedly different flair.

Road trips in my present life involve our four kids, one minivan, and just shy of 1,000 miles to log.  That soaring sense of freedom and a carefree lifestyle that marked road trips in the days of yore, hmm.  I believe we lost all that somewhere on the wayside of having our first child.  But with my husband’s family all in Montana, and my side of the family in Minnesota, road trips are still a common part of life.  The distance between the families is long, but we don’t let a not-so-little stretch of I-90 get in the way of making regular family visits.

My four little road warriors, at our hotel in Belle Fourche, South Dakota…287 miles down, about 700 miles to go with me as the only adult on the trip. Yes, I’m crazy.

Everyone’s heard the “It’s the journey, not the destination,” phrase, but that’s really not the case for us.  It’s the destination.  The journey?  It’s really just something we tolerate and endure.  The journey is the means to an end; we’re driving to visit our family.  More time on the road just means less time visiting the people we love.

Sure, we could stop at one of the many not-so-alluring attractions in South Dakota, but we usually just drive on by with the ultimate destinations in mind.  Ironically, by skipping any fluff along the way, with our four kids in tow we now make the trek between MT and MN faster than ever.  We drive at night.  When the sun starts going down, we load up the kids in their pajamas, fill the tank with gas, stock up on snacks, water, and coffee, and set off.  If the kids are exhausted from a week of visiting with cousins, the trip is all the more peaceful.

Usually we assemble some makeshift beds on the floor of our van and let our oldest kids stretch out a little bit, and the younger two sleep in their car seats.  Yep, we certainly realize that everyone is supposed to be in their car seats all the time, but we acquiesce to comfort in the middle of South Dakota, where in the middle of the night, we are usually the only vehicle on the road for as far as we can see in both directions.

Driving all night long certainly involves a fair amount of self-loathing (and coffee), but we decided it’s definitely worth the sleep deprivation to have a quiet van on the endless miles.  My husband settles in behind the wheel, and I sit in the co-pilot position, on kid duty.  I snooze in between settling whimpers, drink requests, and territorial disputes over foot space.  We stop for gas and bathrooms as quickly as possible.

In the rural west, it’s fairly common to encounter gas stations that close at night, offering only pay-at-the-pump gas.  We’ve adapted by always hauling our own plentiful coffee supply, and I have absolutely no qualms about ducking behind the gas station in the middle of the night, and finding the, um, “alfresco” bathroom facilities that include gravel and shrubs.  In some ways I actually prefer those late night bathroom accommodations, because a patch of grass always look much cleaner than most highway bathrooms, and a sky full of stars over head is much more pleasant than a rusty air vent.

With a few trades on driving duty and a few gas stops, my husband and I can leave our house in Minnesota at the kids’ bedtime, and arrive in Montana shortly after breakfast time at their grandparents’ house.   Everyone has a rotten night of rest, but the nearly 1,000 mile trip is accomplished in fairly short fashion.

While the phrase “road trip” doesn’t really evoke excited emotions much these days, the elements of spontaneity and surprise still appear to be alive and well.  Last Monday afternoon we got a call that Jarred’s brother and family that live up in Fairbanks, Alaska were back visiting their hometown of Broadview, Montana.  We haven’t seen Jarred’s brother’s family in over three years, so with just a few hours of packing and planning, we set off on the road back to Montana to have a chance to catch up with family for a few days.  We got up last Monday morning making plans of getting more settled in our MN life, but by late Tuesday morning, we were far west, unloading our van of squirrely kids in Montana to go play with their many cousins.

And today, I am embarking on what may be an act of insantiy.  Jarred has a week of projects to take care of in MT, but after already being here a week visiting, I’m ready to get back and take on some projects at our new home in MN.  So, I’m heading out on the 1,000 mile trip back to Minnesota with our four kids BY MYSELF.  If the kids were older and more self-reliant, this wouldn’t be that much of a feat, but our oldest is only six, and the youngest is just 13 months.

We will fire up the DVD player and I will placate them with a few new cheap toys and plenty of yummy snacks.  I’ll be pulling off to nurse the baby several times on the I-90 exit ramps, and we’ll stop and sleep at a hotel somewhere in South Dakota.  (Have I mentioned that I often have fantasies of somehow excising South Dakota, making Montana and Minnesota neighboring states?)  My ultimate goal is to arrive home safely with my sanity intact.  I’ll also settle for arriving home safely, sanity can be restored at a later date.

By the time anyone reads this, we will all be back home.  And with any luck, we won’t take on any road trips for a long time.  Well, until next month when we are heading to Montana again to see my husband’s long-time friend get married.  Have I mentioned that when I hear “Road Trip!” I involuntarily cringe and shudder?

© 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