A Basement Dungeon Getaway

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Written  in January 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

I was elated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Greetings from Frostbite Farm, MN‏

Written January 2014.

Something about a -50 windchill on this Monday morning makes all other thoughts that don’t concern cold and survival just evaporate.

When we got up this morning, something wasn’t working properly with our heat. That means the upstairs is currently 48 degrees, and downstairs the thermostat reads a balmy 58 degrees. My husband figured out the problem, and the house is getting warmer again, but it’s a slow process.

In the mean time, I layered up the kids and wrapped them up in blankets, and at the moment, they are very content sitting and watching movies. We have a wall-mounted fan heater in the kitchen, and currently, the dog and the two young kids are vying for the cozy warm space right against that heater. Somehow, the dog is winning.

My two-year-old and our dog, hanging out in their favorite cozy place by the heater.

My two-year-old and our dog, hanging out in their favorite cozy place by the heater.

In the kitchen, the crock pot is cooking a chicken, venison steaks are thawing for lunch, a pot of beans simmer on the back stove, and I turned the oven on to make it warm enough for bread to rise. We are a long way from any danger of freezing, but something in that visceral cavewoman part of my head sees the cold outside and starts thinking I better start cooking, so we don’t just all freeze or starve to death. I know logically that we are indeed not freezing to death, but that doesn’t matter.

I just have to keep cooking anyway.

Last night before I went to bed, I thought, “It’s going to be cold, I better put some beans in a pot to soak overnight, so they can cook in the morning.”

And then I realized where all of this is coming from. In my head are the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter that I read to my kids earlier this fall. Most specifically, the October Blizzard chapter stands out, when they lived in a one-room tar paper claim shanty out on the open prairie.

While I didn’t realize it last night, that feeling like I better put some beans out to soak overnight with oncoming cold came straight from Caroline Ingalls in the blizzard chapter. ” ‘I’m glad I put beans to soak last night,’ said Ma. . . .Now and then she spooned up a few beans and blew on them. When their skins split and curled, she drained the soda water from the kettle and filled it again with hot water. She put in the bit of fat pork. ‘There’s nothing like good hot bean soup on a cold day,’ said Pa.”

I agree with Pa. If I could talk to him, I’d give him a good old Minnesotan “You betcha.” Our two-year-old didn’t really touch her pancake for breakfast, but she ate three warm, steamy servings of pinto beans doused in butter, salt, pepper, and cheese. Beans are cold weather food. You betcha.

On this blustery day, my mind drifts to the stories of extreme cold and hardship from the Ingalls family, “She put more wood in the stove and broke the ice in the water pail to fill the teakettle. The water pail was less than half-full. They must be sparing of water for nobody could get to the well in that storm. But the snow on the floor was clean. Laura scooped it into the washbasin and set it on the stove to melt, for washing in.”

There’s nothing like a little Laura Ingalls to add some perspective to hardship. Our pipes upstairs froze overnight, but all in all, it’s not so bad. We still have heat and running water downstairs.

This morning I’m frustrated that our dishwasher isn’t working because one of its water lines froze up, which means washing the mound of dirty dishes by hand. I really hate washing dishes. That is nothing, though, compared to waking up in a shanty with snow on the floor, let alone looking at that snow and thinking, “Oh good, now I can have water for washing.” No, life is pretty cushy by that comparison.

However, I actually did break ice in the water pail this morning. Granted, the water pail was in the unheated shed where the chickens live, and it’s the same thing we’ve been doing since the temperature went below freezing.

In another chapter of the same book, Pa tells his girls to stay in bed until he scoops the snow pile off of the top of their quilts. As for us, I dressed my kids in layers, but their day of “winter hardship” includes hanging out on a couch with cuddly blankets, holding my smart phone. On my phone they’re watching a movie on Netflix, essentially holding a little personal TV right in the palm of their hands. But wait, my husband also has a smart phone, so sometimes they have two different movies playing at once. And sometimes my older son then turns on our laptop and plays a game on that.

I think I’d be happier if it was the electronic devices that froze up on cold days.

On the positive side of this cold day, my kids sufficiently warmed up enough to decide they wanted snow ice cream. They went outside and collected a bowl of clean snow. Then while I worked in the other room, my seven-year-old and six-year-old worked in the kitchen mixing snow, cream, sugar, and vanilla together until it tasted like ice cream.

I was impressed. They made something that tasted like ice cream with no help from me, didn’t make a colossal mess in the kitchen, and did it all while keeping peace with a very opinionated two-year-old who desperately wanted to add in her own personal touch to the final product. That’s no small feat.

Maybe tonight we’ll make an apple pie for supper and top it with a little snow ice cream. A little extra heat in the house from the oven, smell of baking apples and cinnamon…that sounds like a perfectly good way to end a perfectly frigid day. While it’s not beans, I think Pa Ingalls would approve.

12 Days of Christmas, Crammed into 7‏

Written December 2013.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I’d like to wish you something about visions of sugar plums, snow flakes gently falling, silent nights, all is calm, sleigh bells jingling…blah, blah, blah…but I’m just not seeing that at my house.

Here are my own “12 Days of Christmas.” Life is moving fast around here, so the reality is, I’m cramming 12 days worth of activities into just a week. So I guess it’s really…

“12 Days of Christmas, Crammed into 7”

(Go ahead a sing along to yourself…)

In seven days before Christmas, here’s life in this family…

12 Eggs a Day
11 Hungry Sheep
10 Loads of Laundry
9 PM Skate Time
8 Smart Carts to Build
7 Frozen Waterers
6:30 Cub Scouts
5 Christmas Trees!
4 Dozen Norwegian Cookies
3.5 Hours of Christmas Pageant
3 Dentist Visits
2.5 Hours on Bleachers
2 Trees Cut Down
and a Check-Up Before Insurance Changes.

12 Eggs a Day: Our young hens are just getting started on their production, and we now get about a dozen eggs a day. This makes enough for our family and enough to share with Mom who makes brunch for a crowd. By spring, we’ll be getting 40 a day. Hooeee!

11 Hungry Sheep: This really isn’t a surprise, but sheep are much easier in the summer. They just wander around and eat green stuff and they’re happy. This whole feeding hay bales business in the winter is so much more work. I wish they could just climb up in the hay mow and throw down a bale themselves.

10 Loads of Laundry: This was my goal for the week. The reality: I think I washed about four and folded maybe two. The whole trip to Montana thing really did throw me off, although I cavalierly assume every time that I can just suck up the exhaustion and get right back in the groove of life again. January…now that will be the time that life gets all in order. I’m sure of it. Probably.

9 PM Skate Time: My second grader has a skating party on Friday night from 7-9 PM. I don’t even go out that late anymore. The thought of driving to Harmony at that time of night so she can repeatedly trip and fall on the skating rink and then cry in frustration because she’s learning to skate two hours past her usual bedtime…let’s just say I’m more of a Sunday afternoon skate kind of girl.

8 Smart Carts to Build: My husband, Jarred, is swamped in the month of December with eight Smart Carts to build. Smart Carts are cart with a box that can hold feed or small animals (like litters of pigs), with a scale for weighing whatever is in the box. Normally, he gets orders of one or two at a time. He recently redesigned the carts to simplify the construction, but eight at once is sort of a beautiful burden.

7 Frozen Waterers: Jarred also designed a new low-maintenance winter-proof chicken waterer, but he hasn’t had time to finish it yet (see above). In the mean time, we deal with frozen water for the chickens, which means watering twice a day. If I could just teach the chickens to enjoy ice cubes, life would be much easier.

6:30 Cub Scouts: I realize there is no 6:30 in the song, but this is just one of the events in our week of something going on every single night. In the busiest month of the year, we let our six-year-old join cub scouts. He’s pretty excited about obeying the law of the pack.

Wielding a saw, ready for some serious tree cutting business.

Wielding a saw, ready for some serious tree cutting business.

5 CHRISTMAS TREES! That’s the total in our house these days. We cut down a big old beauty from Van Normans’s Tree Farm, and then each of our kids also has their own little artificial tree that they set up, too. But wait, we also have one in the toy room. That makes six. For song purposes, though, we’ll just stick with five. It’s more glorious sounding that way.

 Part of our Christmas tree cutting crew at Van Norman's.

Part of our Christmas tree cutting crew at Van Norman’s.

4 Dozen Norwegian Cookies. First of all, I would like to state that I am not a single drop Norwegian. I am primarily Luxembourger. However, I married into the Norske culture, so when surrounded by Norwegians, learn Norwegian things. Last Saturday night, I spent a wild night of three hours rolling out four dozen Berlinerkranzer cookies for the Norwegian Festival at church. My kids looked at the cookies and said, “Where’s the frosting and sprinkles?” I told them in my serious low voice “There was no Betty Crocker frosting on the cold, frozen fjords of Norway. These are the stark cookies of a rugged, independent people.” And then they asked, “Could we just put sprinkles on them anyway?” They’re only part Norwegian, after all.

3.5 Hours of Christmas Pageant. I love nothing more than seeing little kids dressed up like sheep and wisemen singing “Silent Night,” but as anyone who’s ever helped with a Christmas program knows, those cute little programs don’t just happen by themselves. It took an hour of practice and some tasty brunch to keep everyone’s energy up for the hour-long church service. All told, three and a half hours…plenty of opportunity for practicing patience.

A shepherd, a disgusted sheep and a donkey waiting for the Christmas Play.  The donkey is spitting at the sheep, as donkeys often do.

A shepherd, a disgusted sheep and a donkey waiting for the Christmas Play. The donkey is spitting at the sheep, as donkeys often do.

3 Dentist Visits. Of course, I scheduled these visits back in June, when December seemed forever away and easy…

2.5 Hours on Bleachers. (Yes, this song goes on and on, just like real life.) Last night at school we enjoyed the delights of another holiday performance for 2.5 hours. The first hour was pleasant. Then my two-year-old daughter in a long red holiday dress wanted to leap off the bleachers in exhausted boredom. Not tripping and getting a bloody nose: a Christmas miracle.

2 Trees Cut Down: The highlight of my week was heading out in the frigid cold to Van Norman’s Tree Farm. I grew up just a few miles from there, and even got a plane ride from Willis Van Norman as a kid. I think this was the first time in about 20 years, though, that I’ve been out to their place. It was great to see a former neighbor. Heading there felt like the real Minnesotan tree hunting experience: trees, farm fields, and quiet.

And A Check-Up Before Insurance Changes: I figured the simple thing would be to get a routine check-up before the end of the year. I incorrectly assumed it would be quick. Ninety minutes later, I walked out. That made me a half-hour late to our kids’ dentist appointments (see above). I’m quite healthy, but that routine checkup gave me high blood pressure.

Bonus alternative song ending: And a Frozen In-Floor Heating System. (That’s for my husband, who’s enjoying that in his shop while he’s out their welding.)

All light-hearted Christmas griping aside, may your Christmas be a wonderful one. May your belly be full of delicious food and your heart full of the spirit of Christmas (the silent night kind, not the stuck at a traffic light kind)…and your eyes not too sleepy from staying up too late wrapping presents or being out on the town “spreading good cheer,” yes, that’s what I’ll call it. Happy holidays, everyone! Wishing you all the best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written March 28, 2013

The Beauty of a Snow Day (I Just Hope Winter is Almost Over)

Via my seven-year-old daughter, I relived that delicious, wonderful freedom of an unexpected day off.  Ah, the glorious power of mother nature.

Written March 2013

Hello again, everyone!  I’m happy to be writing again after taking some time off during the winter doldrums.  Right now the knee-deep snow in our yard suggests that winter may never end, but I’m not fooled.  Winter, you are on the way out, old man.  Longer evenings, more daylight…  Spring really is on the way, and I am so excited.

In the time while I’ve been off “on vacation,” busy life continued.  Here are a few of the highlights of our life during the interim:

Leaving Tennessee: My brother and his family moved from Tennessee back to our hometown in Minnesota.  They happened to move in on the coldest night of the year.  Our extended family turned out in big numbers to help, unloading two packed-full trailers in -25 wind chills.  Frigid weather, but lots of family…welcome to Minnesota, y’all!  Amazingly, that makes three of us siblings (and our families) moving back to MN from other states in one year’s time.

Leaving Iowa: I am an ACTRESS!  Well, kind of.  I performed in my very first play, “Leaving Iowa,” with the Lanesboro Community Theatre.  For that brief time, I was Jessie, the overly talkative waitress with a little attitude.

Jessie the Waitress. Photo by Pete Keith of Laneboro Community Theater.

Jessie the Waitress.   Photo by Pete Keith of Lanesboro Community Theater.

I had a blast.

I always secretly wanted to be in a play in high school, but I didn’t have the guts to try out.  I’m so thankful for community theater which makes it “never too late” to try something new.  I’m also thankful for meeting such a fun group of people in the cast and crew.  About ten of the 26 cast members were first time actors, so I got to experience the thrill (and butterflies) of the new experience right alongside many of my fellow cast members.

Truthfully, just walking into the audition almost took more guts than what I thought I had, but I am so thankful I summoned up the courage to do it.  I felt butterflies in my stomach for the first time in perhaps years, and I’m thankful for that, too.  I know I’m still alive and kicking.

Living in Minnesota: Most recently, what’s on my mind is the joy of a good, old-fashioned snow day. I realize a snow day for many parents means a stressful scrambling to figure out alternative plans while kids have no school and parents still need to head to work.  In that regard, I’m grateful for a work day that occurs right in our home.  Snow days just mean our two school age kids are home to play all day with our two younger children.

I will admit, though, on a recent snow day, I didn’t exactly start out the day with jolly good cheer.

Just before 6 AM, I checked online and then left a note in the bathroom for our kids announcing the two-hour school delay.  I headed back to bed hoping for a few more minutes of sleep after a restless night.  I got up for the day at 8:00, after a rare morning of sleeping in.  (Ten years ago, I never would have called 8 AM “sleeping in,” but my perspective has changed a bit.) And still, I was exhausted and crabby.  Four rambunctious kids, housebound in a snowstorm, didn’t sound very appealing.  I was not exactly in fine parenting mode, that I know.

However, I unexpectedly came downstairs to find hot coffee, a homemade quiche, AND a cherry pie, baked in the oven by my husband, Jarred, and his four willing helpers.  Warm food, good coffee, and kids so excited to surprise me jump-started my attitude adjustment.

After breakfast I checked school closings again online and discovered school switched from delayed to the big “C.”  CLOSED.

I beckoned my first grader to come upstairs and read the announcement on the computer screen.  She double-checked with me to be sure.  Then she was gone.

A few seconds later, I heard the rapid thuds of excited steps down the stairs and the triumphant yell: “NO SCHOOOOOL!!”

In an instant, my surly attitude evaporated.

I was a kid again, sitting in front of the radio listening to school closings.  I was pondering the likelihood of a cancellation, weighing the odds by the number and proximity of the other school closings.  “Ooh, good! Dover-Eyota’s cancelled!!  That HAS to mean we’re closed, too!” I remember the agonizing wait for the announcer to work down to the “S” portion of the list.  “St. Ansgar, closed! They’re always closed, so that doesn’t count.  But ooh, we’re next!”  And finally, the words I longed to hear, “St. Charles, closed!”

Via my seven-year-old daughter, I relived that delicious, wonderful freedom of an unexpected day off.  Ah, the glorious power of mother nature.  A big whopper of a storm, so powerful that even school didn’t stand a chance.  The joy of a full day to relish and squander greedily.  A snow day is indeed glorious.

The decibel level of my kids told me that they felt just as excited as I did when I was little.  One of the best things about being a parent is getting to see that some things never change.

Just before lunch, the snow ended and I poked my head outside.  Inside was mess, melee, and noise.  Outside, the world was silent and bright with deep, powdery snow on the windless day.  It reminded me of Bozeman, Montana, where I went to college.  Bozeman is nestled in a sheltering valley between mountain ranges, so time after time I saw a gentle snowfall pile up six inches of powdery snow, followed by a bright, windless, pleasant winter day.  It was a Bozeman kind of day.

Riding on a sled over knee deep snow.

Riding on a sled over knee deep snow.

I rounded up the kids and we headed outside into the powdery goodness.  I remember that as a little kid, the snow always seemed so deep.  Looking at our 23-month-old wading in snow over her knees, it suddenly made sense why the snow used to be so much deeper when I was young.

The kids meandered through the yard, playing on the snow-covered wood pile and pulling each other around in the sled.  They slid down the only hill in our yard: the piled mound of plowed snow.  Fluffy with new snow on top, with a frozen sheet of ice covering hard-packed snow beneath, the mound is just right for sliding and MN-style surfing.

Building a secret fort in the wood pile.

Building a secret fort in the wood pile.

I pushed our kids in the tree swings, their feet kicking up sprays of white powder with every arc.  Under a big snow-covered oak tree, watching smoke curl up from the wood burner, surrounded in a powdery quiet blanket interrupted only by the sound of kids in play, all felt right with the world.

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Eventually, we headed inside and heated up some leftovers for lunch. And for dessert, snow cream.

Snow cream is a simple ice cream-like delicacy that I never heard of in all my snowy Minnesotan upbringing.  Ironically, I learned about the treat from my North Carolinian roommate in college, who had a giddy excitement over snow the first year we both went to Montana State.  The fresh powder from a new snowfall is ideal snow for making snow cream.

Ice cream made from snow.

Ice cream made from snow.

SNOW CREAM
bowl of snow–6-8 cups
1/2-3/4 cup cream or milk
4 T. sugar
1 t. vanilla

Stir together until it looks like soft serve ice cream, and eat immediately!  I provided measurements for people who like exactness, but in all honesty, I don’t measure anything.  I just sprinkle sugar, drizzle in cream, add a dash of vanilla and then stir and tweak as needed.  Chocolate syrup is also a great addition.

So, if we happen to get yet another snowfall this March, take some of that four-letter “s” word, and go make yourself something yummy.  Enjoy!

Booby Traps, Sparklers and Ten New Year’s Countdowns

Nothing says “welcome, make yourselves at home” like a loud explosion in your face when you need to use the bathroom.  

Now that we’re a good halfway into January, I feel like I’m finally ready for the new year.  The round of sickness that plagued our house over Christmas vacation seems to be done.  (Although I hesitate to say things like that, because it sometimes comes back to haunt me.)

It turns out I won the game of “It Strep or Is It a Virus.”  My mommy senses predicted correctly and we got a lovely bottle of pink amoxicillin for my six-year-old as our prize.  A few days after starting antibiotics she finally started perking up.  Now she’s back to her normal self, dancing around the house while singing random songs and correcting her younger siblings about the proper way to do things.

We rang in the New Year at our house with several of my brothers and sisters and their families.  It was sort of an impromptu affair.  My sister from Rochester helped make the night with a heroic last-minute venture to three stores to find noise makers and shiny hats for the occasion.

Kids and even a few adults helped decorate our dining room by coloring "2013" signs.

Kids and even a few adults helped decorate our dining room by coloring “2013” signs.

Something about the New Year festivities sparked a memory in my husband that he had a box of fireworks out in his shop.  Two years ago, in Montana, we sold fireworks at our gas station.  What remained of those were the relatively safe (or boring, depending on your perspective) sparklers and exploding booby traps.  Yep, we had a hundred sparklers and approximately 800 (not a typo) of those exploding things on strings.  You know the kind.  Pull on each end of the string, and in the middle, the little skinny tube of something slightly explosive suddenly goes BANG!

Hearing an exploding booby trap again brought back a flood of memories (or maybe I should say “flashbacks”) from childhood.  Thanks to my brother, we grew up with booby traps tied on the bathroom and bedroom doors, hooked onto the old-fashioned hook and eye latches.  The door opened a few inches, just enough to make you think all is normal, and then POW!  An explosion, right at eye level, right when you need to pee.

And coincidentally, just before most guests arrived, my husband installed a new hook and eye latch on the door of our downstairs bathroom.  Then he quietly rigged up the bathroom with a booby trap.  We forgot about it until my niece opened the bathroom door.  BANG!  It was a total surprise, so mission accomplished, sort of.  I was hoping it would’ve been one of my brothers, but booby traps aren’t selective.

That’s our level of skill as hosts–a little hospitality mixed with a little juvenile delinquency.  While we did finally install a lock so people could comfortably use the bathroom without fear of someone accidentally walking in on them, I believe we negated the comfort level with booby traps.  Nothing says “welcome, make yourselves at home” like a loud explosion in your face when you need to use the bathroom.

We made up for it, though, with repeated New Year’s countdowns.

With lots of younger kids that can’t make it to midnight, we opted to do our own countdown around 8:00.  Through the magic of Youtube, we found the London 2013 New Year’s countdown on the internet.  We turned it on, and watched an enormous countdown clock next to Big Ben counting down the seconds, and then saw fabulous blasts of pyrotechnics for another five or ten minutes.  Regardless of the actual time here in MN, it looked like a New Year’s celebration, and that’s all that mattered.

Once we got to zero, 15 people in silly hats filled the house with the sound of those annoying noisemakers.  It was wonderful.

Noisemakers (1)

These noisemakers got a good workout with round after round of New Year countdowns.

In fact, the countdown was enough fun that we did it again about three minutes later.  You can do that if your New Year’s comes from the internet.  And then we did it again.  And again.  Why do that very best part of New Year’s only once a year?

Around 10:00, the “late partyers” had another round of New Year’s countdowns.  Turns out, even the sixth time around it’s still fun to obnoxiously blow noisemakers in your brother’s face.  It really doesn’t matter if you’re six or thirty-four, that sort of thing just reverts everyone to their kid state for a few minutes.  And hey, isn’t that what the New Year is for?  Starting over new and fresh and excited for a new year?

That night was pretty darn frigid, but we had several packages of sparklers to burn up, so we threw on our coats and headed out to the porch for some good old-fashioned “might poke someone’s eye with a glowing hot burning, sparking stick” fun.  Sparklers don’t improve with age, and some of them literally lost their spark, but we lit them off just the same, and it was very festive.

In the smoky haze that encircled us in the freezing air, my sister joked, “Well, at least it will keep the mosquitoes away.”  A few minutes later, my brother came outside and walked into the smoky cloud and made the same joke.  Obviously, great minds think alike.

Post sparklers, some people headed home and the rest went inside.  Back in the house I discovered, much to my dismay, that the auto-play of endless “Auld Lang Syne” songs had now switched to the Korean version of the song.  Terrible.  I switched it to Meatloaf, always a family crowd-pleaser.

At 11:00 as the New Year rang in over on the east coast, the last of us watched the ball drop in New York.  We hoped to see our sister, who made the trip to NYC with her husband for her “bucket list” New Year’s Eve moment.  An hour or so earlier, we all stood in the kitchen talking to her on speaker phone, as she stood in Times Square.  The wonders of modern life are pretty cool sometimes.

At our crazy New Year’s bash, all of our party-goers left our house before midnight.

When midnight rolled around, my husband and I laughed at hosting a New Year’s party, but celebrating the true New Year with just the two of us.  We stood amid a delightful mess of forgotten noisemakers and empty cups, and flipped through channels looking for one last countdown.  Thank goodness La Crosse had a wimpy fireworks display on live feed, along with some local commentators, “Oh ya, folks, and here we are, in da new year! You betcha”.  After celebrating about ten New Year’s countdowns in the evening, I felt properly ready to welcome in 2013.

The final highlight of the evening?  My brother took 144 booby traps, planning to rig up Mom’s house before she got home from her New Year’s celebration that night.  Yep, that guy that’s married and has a toddler is still my brother.  That made my night.  We’re awful sometimes.

I’m guessing it didn’t happen, because my mother never told horrific stories of nearly having a heart attack time and time again upon arriving home that night.  And now, I blew his cover.  But maybe not.

You never know when the explosions are coming, Mom.  You just have to continually open every door with caution.  And as everyone knows, it’s not the actual explosion that’s the big deal, it’s the worry that you might be next.  It’s the never knowing.  Is this the day?  That’s the real beauty of those things, the mental torture.  No, wait.  Maybe it’s not Mom.  Maybe someone else in the family will get the booby traps.  Open that cabinet door and…BANG!  Happy New Year, indeed.

Turkey Soup Days and Ibuprofen Nights…How I Spent my Christmas Vacation

The must-have item on the Christmas list this year?  Children’s ibuprofen.  It’s not exactly what I thought would be the most requested item, but I’m awfully thankful I had an ample supply ready for the holidays.

My kindergartner and first grader kicked off Christmas vacation two days early, thanks to the winter storm school cancellations.  My kindergartner celebrated with a fever on the couch those two days, glassy-eyed and wiped out.  Since this is the season of giving, he shared with his siblings, too.  A few days later, the fever and glassy eyes moved on to our littlest one.  And one by one, each kid complained of being “so cold” even though their bodies were burning hot.

The night before Christmas Eve I count as one of my worst nights of sleep in a long time, and I don’t exactly have high expectations in the sleep department.  Good nights of sleep ended seven years ago, and they haven’t come back yet.  Getting out of bed once or twice is the norm, as is getting woken up at 5 AM by a half-pint.

That night, though, was a monster.  We had three different sick kids crawl into our bed in the course of the night looking for snuggles.  Thank goodness for king-sized beds.  Although, the size of the bed doesn’t seem to matter:  any child takes up at least half, and then my husband and I get squished onto whatever remains.  I lost count of how many times I crawled out of the crowded bed to dose pain reliever, drinks of water, or find missing blankets.  When morning came on Christmas Eve, my Christmas spirit was decidedly surly.

Naps, though, do make things much better.  A nap for us all helped everyone feel functional enough to head to Christmas Eve church, and of course, kids mustered the energy to open a few presents before heading to bed that night.

Big smiles with a new blanket on the night before Christmas.

Big smiles with a new blanket on the night before Christmas.

Even with a crew of sick and half-sick kids, I have to say, on the night of Christmas Eve I felt filled to the brim with happiness.  As I held our 20-month-old and she nursed to sleep, I had a moonlit view of a snowy yard and our barn and silo.  On that peaceful, silent night, it felt like Christmas, and it felt like home.  I held a sweet, funny, beautiful little girl in my arms.  A few hours before, our family filled a church pew with four kids decked out in their holiday clothes.  Nobody lit anyone else on fire during the candlelit portion of the service, and until they petered out, we had a lot of joyful noise in our house on Christmas Eve.

I couldn’t ask for anything more than that.

Snuggling in with the new Christmas blankets before bed on Christmas Eve.

Snuggling in with the new Christmas blankets before bed on Christmas Eve.

My ideal Christmas is a little Norman Rockwell mixed with a little of the Griswold family from the movie Christmas Vacation.  And that is pretty doable.  On Christmas Day, we had a fine candlelit turkey dinner at noon in our pajamas with a few sides of ibuprofen.

Special thanks to children's ibuprofen, the unofficial sponsor of the Mosdals' Christmas.

Special thanks to children’s ibuprofen, the unofficial sponsor of the Mosdals’ Christmas.

Afternoon naps (highly valued at our house) followed by warm baths for achy kids gave everyone enough steam for a Christmas supper at Grandma’s.  Thirty-seven people, if my tally is correct, made Grandma’s house bursting full and slightly chaotic.  And if you’re from a big family like me, that feels just about right.

Having too much fun to leave early from Grandma’s, we earned ourselves a full-fledged Christmas Meltdown because we got home late, and three kids cried during most of the bedtime process.

The day after Christmas felt like holiday hangover.  Two very sick kiddos, one so-so, and one just tired, all of us were worn out from the rush of Christmas excitement.  On days like that, I don’t know where the time goes, but it stretches on and on in repetitive motions of holding, comforting, dosing, and stepping over Christmas toys.  I never have enough arms.

In that exhausting day, one of the highlights was seeing my sick, listless six-year-old eat two bowls of steaming homemade turkey noodle soup.  She hadn’t wanted anything because her throat hurt too much, but I put some in front of her anyway.  Slowly one bowl disappeared, and then another.  Afterward, she perked up and said her throat felt better, at least momentarily.  It was a small triumph in an otherwise exhausting mothering marathon.

My other highlight that day was seeing my husband pull in the driveway with a trailer full of wood in tow.  He and my brother-in-law spent the afternoon cutting and loading wood, and happiness is the sight of plenty of wood for a cozy, warm house.  Happiness is also seeing another parent return home to help share the load of sick kids.

And today, my Christmas vacation outing will be a visit to the Fast Care Clinic with my daughter.  We’re making the 45-minute drive to Rochester to play every parent’s favorite game:  “Is It Strep or Is It Just a Virus?”  If we guess correctly that it’s strep, we’ll be rewarded with a bottle of pink amoxicillin.  If we guess incorrectly, we’ll go home with some wonderful parting gifts:  free new germs from the clinic, and a complimentary wasted afternoon.  The best part, though, of the “Is It Strep or Is It A Virus?” game is that win or lose, every player receives a generous clinic bill just for participating.  Oooh, I can hardly wait.

‘Tis the season for sore throats and achy bodies, but all isn’t lost on this Christmas vacation.  As I write this, we’ve still got five days of vacation time left.  I predict a full recovery of the household, and ringing in the New Year with busy bodies ready to hit the sledding hill.  Just the same, I’ll replenish my stash of medicine while I’m in town today.

Wishing all of you a healthy New Year!

Snowmobile Gas, Scraped Ceilings, and Pine Needles: What Christmas Memories are Made Of

I can’t remember the last time I went out and helped cut down a Christmas tree. By my estimation, it’s been about twenty years.

While that hardly seems possible, my mental tally confirms that all-too-big number. However, this past weekend I rectified that tree-cutting deficiency. We went out to Saratoga and hunted down a trophy worthy of mounting in the living room. It stands over eight feet tall, just shy of scraping the nine foot ceilings in our living room, and our children decorated it beautifully. Well, to be more accurate, they thoroughly decorated the bottom four feet with slightly smashed ornaments that they made last year, but I think it’s perfect.

That tree-cutting event brought back some of my very favorite Christmas tree hunting memories. One tree in particular stands out in my memory. The behemoth. The one that scraped the sparkly textured ceiling, causing Mom to scream and yell in horror. I was six years old at the time, and it was GRAND.

Kathy age six, circa 1984, in front of the behemoth tree on Christmas morning.

Kathy age six, circa 1984, in front of the behemoth tree on Christmas morning.

Snowmobile Gas
The tree came from the back of our farm. That year it was snowy, so we fired up our snowmobiles for the tree hunt. That alone made the tree hunting wonderful. Our snowmobiles, which we always referred to by their given names, the Panther and El Tigre, were the tree hunting vehicles. I rode in the Cat Cutter, hooked onto the back of one of the snowmobiles. The Cat Cutter was a magnificent 1970’s snowcoach that hooked on the back of a snowmobile, meant for hauling an extra kid or two. We would usually wedge in at least three of us. I knew back then that the Cat Cutter was the essence of cool. I loved hopping in and getting rides, and I still remember the tiger print fabric on the inside.

So we rode out in snowmobiles to the back of the farm. We parked in front of the towering evergreen trees. I remember struggling to plow my short legs through the deep snow to get closer to the trees. Then, like brothers and sisters are supposed to do, a good half dozen of my older siblings proceeded to argue and discuss which tree top would make the best Christmas tree. At six, I had no voting power, so I mostly stayed quiet.

Settling on a good tree, one of my brothers (either David or Mike) climbed up the giant evergreen while carrying the hand saw, and slowly lopped off the top. I remember watching the tree top wiggle and shake, and finally, seeing the awesome crash of the tree top falling to the ground. TIMBER! It was fabulous.

If I remember correctly, on this particular year, we misjudged the height of the tree top from our vantage point on the ground, and the first one that he lopped off was way too short. I recall some choice angry words over who was to blame for the short tree snafu. Somehow, while standing hot and sweaty in the cold snow, it didn’t sound appealing to my brother to climb another tree, perch in branches, and wield a saw to lop off another magical Christmas memory. Nonetheless, he climbed up another tree and sawed off another tree top.

It seems that we erred on the side of long on the second go round, but we didn’t fully know that until later.

Task accomplished, my brothers jerked the starter cords a few times to fire up the snowmobiles, filling the cold winter air with the sound of revving engines and the smell of snowmobile gas. I do love that smell. To me, the scent of snowmobile gas, like the scent of wood smoke, is the smell of a good time.

We piled back on the snowmobiles and I climbed into the Cat Cutter. Flashes of the ride back to the house forever etched themselves in my memory: cold, crisp air that burned in my nose when I sucked in, red cheeks, wiping my runny nose on my mittens, a fine spray of snow blowing into my face, ducking my head out of the wind, holding out my mitten-covered hands to catch the snow, and the smell of snowmobile gas and the sound of engines through it all.

Runny nose?  Cold?  Snow spray in the face?  As an adult it doesn’t sound all that appealing. As a kid, though, I was a little Minnesotan girl in winter heaven. I was six years old, out with my brothers and sisters on a Christmas tree mission, riding home on snowmobiles and dragging a tree after cutting it down and watching it fall. I knew it was one of the most glorious moments of my life, one of those moments so spectacular that I couldn’t believe it was real, and I didn’t want it to end.

Scraped Ceilings
That wonderful tree, like the Grinch’s heart, seemingly grew several sizes. We arrived home and after stuffing, tugging, and pushing, they crammed the tree through the front door, and then SCRAAAAAPE! A long scratch, forever commemorating that year’s tree, gouged into Mom’s sparkly textured ceiling. Mom’s ensuing yelling? Yep, I still remember that, too. As horrifying as wrecking Mom’s ceiling was, oh man, that tree was ever so grand.

They perched the tree under the peak of our vaulted ceiling, and it nearly touched the peak when upright, soaring over twice as tall as most of the people in my family at the time. It filled a gigantic area in our gigantic living room, and of course, it was all the more glorious to my six-year-old perspective.

My sister, Sues, took a Christmas morning picture of me in front of that tree. In the picture I’m sitting in blue rose pajamas. I remember not liking those pajamas that mom made for one of my older brothers, and I remember thinking that my hair was messy, so I didn’t want my picture taken. But now I look back at that, and I love it. In the background is an astonishing mound of Christmas presents. If we got something, it usually came to us at Christmas time. We didn’t get birthday presents, so that was the one gift time of the year. With a dozen siblings, most still living at home at the time, Christmas day was huge.

That year was also the year of The Cabbage Patch Kid baby. THE one, that I longingly looked at every time we went into the hardware store in Plainview.

On Christmas morning, I was the first one awake. I sifted through the wrapped boxes and pulled out what I thought was my Cabbage Patch. I set it aside on the couch, ready to be opened as soon as I had the green light go ahead when everyone else got out of bed. After patiently waiting through the Today Show, everyone finally came downstairs, and I finally got to open my doll. Like a six-year-old dreams, it was just the one that I’d wanted. I finally could hold it in my arms. I think it’s still floating around in the toy box at my mom’s house, and my six-year-old daughter now occasionally plays with it.

Of all my childhood Christmases, that is probably the Christmas I remember the best: At six, I was at the peak of believing in all the magic of Christmas. We rode out on snowmobiles to get a gigantic tree that forever scratched the ceiling, and Santa brought the very doll that I’d longingly wanted for months.

kathy tree 2012

Kathy, circa 2012, sawing a few lumberjack swipes at this year’s tree with her family in the background.

Pine Needles
With my own kids, I don’t know what memories will forever etch into their hearts. I don’t know yet what they’ll look back on and laughingly tell stories about when they’re grown up. I do know, though, that Christmas this year is special. It is our first Christmas in our new house, the house we are going to live in “forever”, and we have four young kids who believe in the magic of Santa and the wonder of Christmas. I think heading out and sawing down our tree is a good start on the holiday. Timber!