2013: A Year in Pictures (And a Few Words, Too)

This week, a picture is definitely worth a 1,000 words (to me, anyway). As you read this, the rush of Christmas is over, but as I write this, I am in still in the midst of one week to go before the big day. If you know me, you might guess that I haven’t wrapped a single present, haven’t touched the pile of Christmas cards I ordered a few weeks ago (in order to get them done with plenty of time, of course), and probably have a messy house. Yes, yes, and yes.

With that holiday crunch pressing, it gives me a sense of perspective to look back at the year and see all of the things that we’ve done. Here are some of the big events of our life that I chronicled in this column this year:

-Acting in my very first play, “Leaving Iowa,” and then again later on in the locally produced “Cinderella” silent movie.

Photo by Pete Keith of Laneboro Community Theater.

Photo by Pete Keith of Laneboro Community Theater.

-Raising our first bottle lamb. Our kids held him like a puppy, and now he’s big enough to ride. He survived and thrived. Jarred wants to eat him for Christmas, I’m not so sure.

IMG_1905

-A mother-daughter run together at the Fools Five, where my seven-year-old ran her very first race.

first race

-Missing my brother Mike Kramer in so many ways, big and small. Even in a crowded house on holidays, there is a feeling of someone missing. Thank you all again for your continued kindness and support for our family.

Mike at work: a talented pilot, doing a job he loved.

Mike at work: a talented pilot, doing a job he loved.

-Making the best of a hard summer with a fun campout for our son’s birthday, we slept under the stars and ate a hearty breakfast on the porch.

Summer breakfast on porch

-Raising my first set of meat birds successfully. I hauled them to get processed on my 35th birthday, and felt like it was a great way to start my next year of life.

chickensinpickup-1

-Celebrating a wedding in the family, my nephew Mark Manemann married Sheila McNallan. My son was the ring bearer.

mark and isaac

-Four kids dressing up for Halloween and having the requisite trick or treating night out on the town. (Spot stayed home.)

halloween 2013

-Celebrating Thanksgiving in Montana with my husband’s side of the family. We took our Christmas picture with his ’64 pickup that hasn’t made the trip to MN yet.

family photo 2013

Thank you for following our adventures over the course of the last two years. It’s still quite surreal and humbling to think that part of every paper is devoted to the tales of my family’s life each week. I don’t see most of you face to face, but I hear bits and pieces from family or friends. Every once in a while there is an “Oh, you’re Kathy’s (insert relation)? I like her column.” It’s really very kind and nice to hear. I never really know whose lives I might touch.

If you miss a week, want to reread something later on, or share it with someone else, you can find me online at http://www.kathyschronicles.com. All of the articles are there, just a few weeks after they come out in the paper (I’ve never been known as punctual). You can also follow Kathy’s Chronicles on facebook, and get updates of the articles as I put them on my website.

if you ever have comments or ideas to share with me, feel free to send an email to the paper, just include my name, and it will get to me. Or write a letter. Or call. Or send me a message on facebook.

Thank you for being part of the wonderful small town community that makes SE MN such a great place to call home. I couldn’t be happier to raise my family among so many good people. Wishing you all many blessings in 2014.

~Kathy

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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.

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.

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!