we had plans, you know.  big plans.  a bus.  a roadtrip.  four little kids & us, a couple duffle bags, a backpack of books & some pencils.  we were going.  for a long time, we were going.

the plan was to sell the house, to move somewhere else.  then, after the last box was hauled in from the (choose one:  moving van.  friend’s pick-up truck.  back of the van.), after we’d unpacked the spaghetti pot & made dinner, after we’d done a load of jeans, we’d point ourselves southwest & go in a (choose one:  bus. camper. mini van.).

but that didn’t happen.
actual windshield photo.  thank you, ND.  your bug-to-car ratio is astronomical.  you didn’t need to prove it. 

our big plans included WEST:  california, legoland, the grand canyon. a big warm loop of state lines crossed, cousins visited, first-time-in-this-state pictures.  we would find new adventures, exciting places, meet new people.
but instead of California, we got north dakota. not exactly exotic, not even warm.
it seemed like a cruel recalculation on paper.
but.  & that’s where Jesus comes in, taking our teeny plans, unfolding them like a giant roadmap laid out on the kitchen table, & making them into something, well, better.

how can north Dakota in the fall possibly rival a California roadtrip?

let me show you.
my parents’ farm, where i grew up, along the canadian border.

four-wheelin’also known as “field rollin,'” if you’re new to the sport.  or 5 years old..
uncle jay, running the semi.  leif loved riding with “uh day”.

not only was it gorgeous weather for september in north dakota, but between field lunch runs, bumping along the gravel roads in papa’s pick-up, riding in the combine, & “full house” episodes in the evenings with grandma, we even managed to sneak in a blissful afternoon at the Lake, my most hallowed place, for kayaking.
it was 85 degrees.
tell me God doesn’t love me.
my mama & me, dominating the photo.

AND.  there was cousin time.  my cousin Kelly’s kids, just down the road from my mom & dad’s.  literally, cousins for neighbors.  booyah.

 & then back to the farm, an actual wonderland.  extreme climbing against gale-like winds?  who needs the grand canyon. . . .
IMG_3133throw in a gram, a papa, an uncle, & a daily buffet & really.
I may never get to california.
did I mention the rides?  both older kids learned to mow.  & LOVED it.  bam-o.
so, there it is.  ND instead of CA.  warm weather, riding around on farm equipment all week, eating, drinking, bonfires, cousins, kayaking, the Lake.

recalculating, I think we’re going to get along just fine.

(p.s. — if you subscribe & received this post with photos un-see-able, my hugest apologies.  wordpress & i were having a thing, but the kinks are worked out now.  ALSO, check out the new “about” page at the top, cleverly renamed “this is how we do it”.  if you start singing a 90’s song, it’s not my fault.)

the paper cow (on being an individual.)

I didn’t recognize him when I walked in, which is remarkable.  he’s been in costume since he was 4:  pirates, mario brothers, ghostbusters; it’s a long list.  but when I came up the wooden steps to the barn’s loft & came around the corner, I couldn’t place his shiny squares & hat.  which is funny.  I usually have a feel for his flare.

it didn’t matter.  he was in one of his all-time favorite places doing what he loves: costuming & setting scenes.

that’s my boy.  (who is so obviously an archer, once he picked up his bow.  duh.)every summer, our kids spend a day or two at the paper cow theatre, a magnificent wonderland in a refurbished barn, just a few miles south of town.  the kids love it there, we love hanging out there to watch their “show” after a day of hard imagining, & the atmosphere — two claps for kris, the heart behind the barn.  clap, clap.
thalia, the yellow faerie on a mission with her pally, (wait for it. . .) the green faerie. 

while we sat in the front row on refurbished church pews, I studied kris, the director.  she owned us, all of us, from the second we stepped into her costumed world, a giant dragon hanging in the rafters & the innards of a piano wallpapering the sound booth.  as I watched her, my heart rose.  she so passionately loves what she’s doing: guiding the sleuths, fusing drama goodness in to their tiny hearts, encircling them for a day in somewhere else.  not only is kris in her absolute element, she’s handcrafted every square inch of it with a palm sander. she bought a dairy barn & turned it into a children’s theatre for crying out loud.

my soul sits up & takes notes on that brand of intention.
church pews.  brilliant, recycled happiness.
I wanted to take the edible mermaid home.

the barn is one of the most wonder-filled places I’ve ever been.  wandering around in it, after the last kid takes off his gloves & hangs up his fox ears, gets me thinking about meeting, greeting, & owning my own purpose on this lovely planet.  any chance I get to redirect my life, to point it purposefully from the helm, I take.  I have one go-’round here.  ’twill not be wasting.

being in the barn reminds me just how much is possible, what a wonder-filled place this life, my life, is.
& after every performance, there’s milk & cookies.


i put him to bed two

we got back last night from our longest roadtrip ever:  18 days smeared over 3 states in a 1970’s camper with 4 kids.  sounds like a bad word problem.  anyway.

yesterday, our last leg of this epic family adventure, was the baby’s birthday.  yesterday, our little guy turned two.
the lips!  for the love.  [andy’s photo, across the breakfast table.]

i’ve been a mom for nearly 11 years, & i have to admit, i’ve been dreading this day for a really long time.  like, nearly 11 years.  the day my littlest one was no longer really a baby.  this might seem a little up hill, a little dramatic, but there’s something tidy & secure about a tiny one all tucked up against you all the time.  the universe feels safe, the world spins on kilter.
but now that i’m here, leif-as-two, i’m kind of relieved.  is that weird?
lake superior, baby.  bam-o.

as in, wow!  we did it!!  we’ve brought four tiny, helpless creatures into the world & through babyhood!  hooray, we might get a full night sleep sometime in the next year!  i can almost reason with this new 2-year-old (just kidding.)!

i’m surprised at myself, & really that’s a pansy way of saying i’m surprised at God.  because Who’s doing the untangling?  credit where credit. . . .  yes.  i’ve been planning for YEARS, people, to be sad when i hit this landmark.  [how depressing is planning ahead to be sad?  come ON.]  & i know i’ve got hoards of time ahead of me, so-help-me-God, especially since my kids are all still technically “little”.  plenty more growing up to be done in this here household, yessir.  but babies-aren’t-us anymore.

& that’s okay.
happy birthday, big guy.  it just gets better & better.

five gigantic years old.

i may as well load up all the mommy emotion in a big heap & deal with it in one fell swoop.
kieran is 5 today.
which makes two kids turning a new year in 8 days’ time.
every year, all of march is birthday madness.
which means i can’t see straight
for all the mommy pondering going on
until easter.

i need a nap.

& a kleenex.

(have i mentioned we do this again in july?  javin & leif were born within two weeks of each other.  well, two weeks & nine years.  oy vey.)

last night at bedtime (why is it always bedtime?), i was singing
with leif snuggled on my chest
& kieran tucked in beside me, arm slung across my neck.
after hugs & kisses & extra snuggles
on this last night of kieran-as-4,
i thought i felt him fall off to sleep.
i felt the tears at the back of my eyes.

there’s something this year about the kids’ last night
being the age they are,
weighty with significance.

it feels a little bit silly,
but it’s killing me.

i asked you, little kieran,
if you were asleep yet, like i thought.
“nope!” you answered me,
perplexed that i would think that of you.

& i felt a tangible relief
that i could have a few more moments with you
as my sweet 4-year-old boy.
i snuggled you a little harder.

today, kieran, our third kiddo, you turn a bright & shiny five years old.actually, everything about kieran is bright & shiny.

unending smiles.  dimples.
bright eyes & a huge heart.
a silly sense of humor.
the best giggle.

& games.  does my boy ever love a good game.
every morning, after the sleep is rubbed out of his eyes, he begins.

“mama?  you’ll probably say ‘no’. . . i think you might say ‘no’. . . but. . .do you want to play a game with me?”

& honestly, there’s nothing kieran isn’t game for.

he truly loves all life has to offer.
activity, adventure, food.
from the time he was a baby, he fussed to have on his plate exactly what everyone else had.
first food?  broccoli.
because at 8 months he saw
that good was happening
& he wanted in.

he’s a beacon to all of us, this little-one-so-big in his (now) five-year-old skin.

and no one in our family is as bold as he is:

the first to ride his bike.
the first the first to get stitches.
the first to break a bone.
the first to tangle with a raspberry bush at the end of the sledding hill.

all because he’s so fully engaged in life & so exuberant about it at the same time.
[& a little bit crazy.]

& the imagination!
four is a holy ground for imagination & creativity.

always making something out of a stick & a rubberband.
always engaging one of his siblings for a romp.
always eager to help stir a cake or crack an egg.

& the brother thing?
he has it down.
both little brother & big brother.

so willing to love & be loved.

yep, kieran.  we are the richest family for having you placed perfectly at our center.

you truly are your namesake, “ray of light.”

happy birthday, big guy.
we love you to the moon & back.
five is gonna rock.


when the schwan man gets stuck in your yard.

we didn’t even see it happen, just saw the poor traveling salesman shovelling snow away from his back tires.  there he was, in a few inches of snow in the grass part of my parents’ yard.  we were at the farm last week, our third annual snowmobiling trip.  my cousin kelly (one of my closest childhood friends) had come over with his wife amber & their three darling little girls.  this has become a ritual now, this getting together for dinner when we’re home to let the kids play, to swap mothering wisdom & foibles, to reminisce about the snowmobiling days kelly & i never dared tell our mothers about.

but i digress.

the poor schwan man.

someone noticed him out the window while the kids, all seven of them, ran around in a frenzy. the conversation about what to do about him began. eventually the menfolk ventured out, sizing up the situation as men do.  i couldn’t hear it, but i imagine there was some hemming & hawing, maybe very little actual conversation.  i can’t help imagine very little conversation.

when i next looked out the window, kelly was driving my dad’s very large four-wheel drive john deere tractor out of the shop & across the yard.  a piece of heavy machinery is a pretty impressive sight, one that’s not lost on me after growing up a farm girl.  but a piece of heavy machinery pulled up in the front yard made the schwan truck look like a toy. & did i mention my dad wasn’t even home? this is the impressive part.  kelly didn’t call my dad on his smart phone, didn’t check with my mom inside, didn’t even hesitate before he walked slowly across the yard, opened the hefty floor-to-celing doors of the shop, started up not-his-tractor, & drove it out.  he didn’t think twice as he hooked it to mr. schwan with a chain he also found & didn’t ask for in the shop, & pulled out the tiny yellow freezer truck. he didn’t ask because he knew.

he knew, of course he could borrow jon’s tractor.  his dad & my dad had been neighbors for years.  our grandparents had lived on the same land we had grown up on.  my brother had driven thorenson tractors, & i had nannied kelly’s little sisters.

we spent countless hours together roaming our tiny burg as kids while our mothers pounded the tennis court. we swam in their pool, rode on their four-wheeler, played pool in their basement with a blue tin of danish cookies.

that much history gives you knowing.

in this day & age of internet communities & facebook groups, of virtual book clubs & online courses, we are often hard-pressed to carve out a for-real, face-to-face community.  updating twitter is easier than walking across the yard to say hello to my neighbor janet.  less fear of rejection, less time-consuming.

but it’s also far less satisfying.

when andy & i were first married, we moved to a new town for him to youth pastor, & we were sitting around one afternoon hanging out with our teenagers.  i was describing the neighborhood we had just moved out of & how we hadn’t gotten to know our neighbors.  hadn’t, actually, even met them, not once in a whole year.

one of the older guys was incredulous.  “how did you not know your neighbors?” andrew had been born into a bedrock family in the community we were now inhabiting.  to not know & have relationship with your neighbors was akin to not speaking the local language.  at 17 he had developed & ingrained thick, meaty, meaningful relationships with all kinds of people.  i was impressed by it, but back then, i didn’t get community in the way i do now.

so, now i make an effort to know my neighbors, even if in little ways.  right now we have a sweet deal going on with janet & frank, retired professors who live next door.  we watch their cat when they fly to colorado, they look in on our pets when we roadtrip.  frank points out crazy mushrooms in the front yard & texts me when the swans are on the river.  we offer them endless entertainment in the form of four small children sledding in the dirt.

& somehow in the needing, in the knowing, we are both satisfied.

the same is true with kelly & his family, evidenced in a tiny way one afternoon last week while we were at the farm.  somehow in the needing each other, a community is developed, & one that is meatier than anything online, one that is more satisfying. this knowing isn’t relegated just to neighbors, either.  we all have neighbors of the heart, yes?  those folk you WISH lived beside you, the ones you’d bring an extra half dozen cookies to every day or a bit of christmas fudge?

those people, that’s your community.  family, friends, strays, it doesn’t matter.  you need them, & they need you.  no matter how isolationist this culture has gotten, has tried to convince you otherwise.  maybe because of it.

so, wherever you are, whoever you have around you, pull them in tight.  brothers, mothers, neighbors, friends flung afar, aunts halfway across the country.  location doesn’t have to be a barrier, if they are important to your community.  whoever they are, pull them in tight & hang on with both hands.  with both hands & a heart.

because somehow in the needing, in the knowing, we are both satisfied. & mr. schwan man?  thanks for the bomb pops.

picture perfect.

last night my sister-in-law jen texted me to see if i’d found a respectable picture of my brood i could download (or upload or whatever) so that she could have it printed out for her wall.  she’s doing a family collage, & since we’ve never ever had a professional picture taken of the kids (goes against my grain, which surprises no one.) & jen didn’t want one anyway, i was up to bat.  i kid you not, i actually included this endeavor in my prayer this morning.  because, really.  i need all the help i can get.

i made the kids put on clothes that weren’t stained or torn (in this picture, you cannot see the large patch on kieran’s knee;  these green pants?  the ones he wears every. single. day. & tucks back into his drawer at night so i will forget to wash them?  yep.  those were my brother’s. i don’t even know how that’s possible, but, there you go.), & marched them down the hill into our backyard before leif could locate mud or the boys could resume their star-wars-at-all-times game, which really means lots of tackling & shooting pvc guns at each other.  or me.
without too much adieu, we got this lovely gem above.  not bad for a wednesday morning, eh?  which, honestly, is exactly humorous, because the whole event was more like this.

leif doing his limp noodle impression.
or this.

or, good grief, this.

ever wrestle a greased pig?  we have one, if you’d like a turn.

& you know this.  this sweet photo session was peaceful for exactly 1.2 seconds.  kind of like my life.  or yours.  we hone in, thinking life should be a little finer around the edges, when in actuality, it’s a hot mess most days.
& in case you haven’t had enough. . . .

pretty sure i don’t know what this was about.

cute picture, yes?  notice the hunk of wood he’s holding.  yeah.  he wouldn’t stop chewing on it, after he picked it out of the bonfire pit.  nice.  like i said, hot mess.

star wars.  i warned you.

& truthfully, if i’m going to give you a legit family picture, one that actually represents who my kids are as a collection, it’d be this:

from left to right:  cheerful & willing, naughtily unwilling to be anywhere other than directly in the ash & digging (sweet Lawd, help me.), confused as to why mom still has the camera out & is impeding our game, & always ready for a photo op.

because that, apparently, is how we roll.

all i’ll say

i’ve been writing this carnival in my head for weeks now.  we took a trip, a gigantic loop from my parents’ place in north dakota across minnesota to andy’s folks’ place in upper michigan.  we took 16 days, a tent, baby toys, & a whole heapload of anticipation.  He did not disappoint.
here goes: my boys at the minnesota zoo.
then we went camping, leify’s first tenting.  he dug it.
then, after a day at my parents’ place collecting our camped-out wits, we spent the next many days at my favorite of favorite places, my parents’ cabin on the canadian border.
andy may or may not have been in heaven in that kayak.
trip!!  nd.mi tour 065 my sister-in-law jen & my brother jay, lighting it up for us.
& pontooning to see fireworks.

javin & thalia become fisherfolk.
thalia, with papa helping hoist that pike. 
all the tonneson-britz men.  
there was also a gigantic sand turtle making that jay & jen facilitated.  (yay, auntie & uncle!)
& then, because i have two july boys, there was celebrating.
& then, just like that, our britz-tonneson time was over, & we headed to michigan.
through duluth, our old stomping grounds, & across into wi.  

in michigan, four of the six britz siblings were there for a festive week of cousin time.
leif with cousin gabriel on the shores of lake superior.  
my sweet niece, layla.
we spent so much time outside, picnicking, playing in the water, & hanging out, that my children all looked coppertone-baby when we got home.
picnic to celebrate andy’s mom, maria’s birthday, along with my sister-in-law verena’s. 
javin fishing with cousin elias.
we needed to celebrate the boys with this side of the family, too.
best party favors ever.

on the way home, on leify’s actual birthday, we were driving along, wondering just how to make the day special, when i looked over & found. . . .
really, Lord?  i stand down.  i couldn’t have been more impressed.

so, now we’re home, the baby who is one is napping, javin turns 10 tomorrow, & andy’s in the garage building a bunny hutch with the kids.
honestly, i cannot keep up with this goodness.
all i’ll say is hallelujah.