travelogue: it felt like 37 below.

sluggish, sleepy feet firmly planted in the plush carpet at my parents’ house, I picked up the cracked phone andy & i share to check the weather while the kids played the wii in their pajamas, first thing in the morning.  we had come the nine hours (which inevitably squeezes itself into twelve) & 556 miles to snowmobile.  & no matter what the temperature was (-11, but weatherbug said it felt like -37), snowmobile we would.

this is how we vacationed this year.  not exactly tropical, or warm like we’d planned, but well.  it fit in the budget.  or lack thereof.

without further adieu, the nd travelogue:

I walked leif outside on our first morning there, & when I came back out one minute later, javin had him on the snowmobile, having the time of his life.

the last two years, my kind-hearted cousin kelly & his wife, who live “next door” to my parents (“next door” is a relative term, as they live over a mile away down gravel road & highway.) have lent us their teeny snowmobile, geared to roar up to a whooping 8 mph & to hold only the weight of a smallish child.  this is an act of extraordinary generosity, & my kids (especially the smallish 5-year-old) revel in it.  or on it.

out here, you don’t mess around with snow removal.

we even got to bring Gram & Pop back home with us for the weekend, which is good, since i completely neglected to take pictures of them in their natural habitat.  


in our grand life-of-travel scheme, we planned to spend a solid chunk of January & February somewhere warm, somewhere south.  we planned to be in a bus heading far away from ice & snow.  we planned to be not-here, with our kids on a grand adventure.  what we got instead was mini trips to MI & ND, both of which are decidedly more winterish than WI.

i’m beginning to realize my life isn’t about where I think i’m supposed to be or where i’d rather be.   it’s about where I am right now.
if i can keep that in mind, i think where i am can always be a good place to be.keep tweaking the machine, friends.
it’s getting good.

why travel?

lunch is in the oven, & i’m thinking down scones & potato salad.  the sink is full, & the laundry basket, & the living room floor.  i need to air out snowpants from newbie cross-country skiers, & there’s a cat around here somewhere.

just now i’m wondering why.  we’re tired, there’s much to do.  i just sent the little boys down the hall to do their screaming somewhere-not-here.  the long list i pencilled last night, an hour after we got back from michigan, is cackling at me, chuckling at my ambition.  tomorrow we leave for north dakota, the second leg of our first annual winter grandparent tour.  WI to MI back to WI to ND & back to WI.

why would a young family, toddlerhood still hanging off the last one, travel in the winter on a super-low budget to somewhere not-warm?

all i can offer for explanation is a few photos.

michigan tech’s winter carnival snow sculptures.

andy’s newest addition to screenprinting, ice t-shirts.  jay kay.

their first time on cross-countries & snow shoes.

they can fight even on skis.

i was so happy to see this random person flying a kite out on the lake.  because, why not?  my life could use a little more “why not?”.  yours, too?

then a trip to houghton’s library.  my boots:  actual size.

the SNOW, people.  i don’t know if you know.

& pasties with my cute MIL.  because PASTIES.

hanging out with papa.  & cousin Ever, the delicious.

the beautiful auntie Elizabeth brought over her watercolors.

& uncle Ben the Benevolent provided the entertainment.

ive-year-old selfies.  

so, truly.  why, when it’s a boatload of work, & inconvenient, & hours in the crumb-laden van, would we value travel as a way of being in the world?

i think it carries over to everything:  doing the things we really want to do, living our ideals, living an intentional life, is a boatload of work.  & though the work is just that, work, how can we not put in the extra grind?

andy said yesterday on our drive home, as we were talking life & philosophy:

we’re past impossible.

meaning, we’ve lived a long time referring to different pieces of our lives as impossible.  but is anything, really, if we’re meant to do it, impossible?  or is it just difficult, inconvenient, work?  i mean, i want the good life.  & that life is not the one on billboards or on the news, in the sunday paper advertisements.  it’s more mysterious than that.  it’s deeper.  i dare say it’s simpler.

& part of that inconvenience for us, that impossible, is back-to-back roadtrips with four smallish children in the winter to cold destinations.

it is travel.

did i mention the water heater just died?


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.)

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.


we didn’t mean to go to new york city, not really.
i’m beginning to suspect maybe that’s how good things happen.

anyway, a couple weeks before thanksgiving, we heard through the britz grapevine that andy’s brother, ben & his wife, elizabeth, who live in new york, were moving. andy said, “it’s too bad we never got out there while they were still there.”

to which i answered without thinking, “maybe it doesn’t have to be.” now, let’s get something straight.  i’m not a drag-the-kids-across-the-country sort of mom.  heck, i’m not even a risk taker.  over christmas, i read an article detailing 13 things successful folks do.  i got to “be willing to take calculated risks” & slumped inside. & then my heart took a deep breath, shook itself off, & postured a little.  i might not be, but i’d like to be.   this post has had a hundred working titles, not least of which was andy’s “a week without wal-mart”.  i find this picture just a little bit irritating.

after facebooking back & forth, we penciled in a few days with ben & elizabeth.  & i tell you, we had a glorious time with them, who, by the way, created & write a site called “the Anti-Tourist”.  i suppose you can figure out the sort of new york view we got, yes? without further adieu, i give you new york city, britz-view: the kids’ first subway ride.   times square.  also, how kieran saw most of the city. bagels.  because of course.   in ben & elizabeth’s cool, minimalist, place. we left no panache at home. a dragonfruit, from chinatown.  thank you, Aunt E.  you never fail to inspire us. hotdogs on coney island. . . . . .& kieran chasing seagulls.  we got to the ocean, & he just took off running, not looking back.  yes, yes, that’s it. the kids saw the ocean for the first time. & my soul opened up.  i felt it. i wish i could have you at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee to tell you all the amazing things we saw, how the kids wowed at times square, but how they really dug the toys ‘r us there with life-sized storm troopers.  how i was surprised by the beauty of the parks, & what amazing cooks both ben & elizabeth are, feeding us exquisite vegan fare all week. i’d tell you about the best grocery store on the planet that had every organic & natural brand all lined up for my wondrous eyes to partake, with a view of the statue of liberty out the back door, & i’d tell you how the kids loved the train, & about the most fantastic in-the-air park called the Highline, that is an old train track converted into a walking park.  i’d probably be a little breathy in the telling;  it’s still a happy tangle in my heart. photo credit:  ben britz. then central park, where the kids frolicked as kids do.  that building behind?  that’s the MET.  which they cared nothing about.  to be a kid. if you were sitting at my table having coffee, i’d also tell you the million ways our trip went awry:  the jumbo snowstorm that holed us up outside chicago.  my complete failure to remember water bottles on any day-trip.  the head cold andy wrestled with for the better part of the week.  & toddler travel, which is a volume in itself.  (suffice it to say, i can now bench press a mack truck.) but the Goodness, as it always does, far surpassed the trials.  there was ny-style pizza, & ny-style cheesecake.  ben & elizabeth taught the kids how to use chopsticks.  i ate my first pork bun.  (thank you, ben.  i had no idea.)  we drank bubble tea in chinatown & ate pizza in little italy.  & the Lady;  we saw her. & then, after a full week, & so many amazing conversations, we left ben & elizabeth & headed north to our friends, the Buckners, in upstate new york. where again, Goodness prevailed.  as did sandy’s cooking. & kind hospitality. & a trip to the most amazing children’s museum. in the short while we were there, sandy & john & sarah blessed our socks off, too. sandy & co. only live 3 hours from niagara falls, so we headed that way next.

because andy is a man who loves a new road, we went through lower michigan en route home.  we drove across the mackinac bridge, that 5 mile wonder between lake michigan & lake huron. the next morning we went to see if we could see the sault ste. marie locks, to see the barges moved.  because we are that folk, we went without research & saw no ships, the whole place having shut down just 3 days before.

we did, however, medicate with hot cocoa & chalked it up to stretching our ability to roll with things.

we stopped off at andy’s folks on the way home, being only an hour out of the way,
(don’t ask about the sombrero fest;  i just don’t know.)

& then just as quick as we were gone, we were back home again. only a little different in the having gone.

heading north.

we didn’t mean to take a trip.  which i’m glad of, because if we had had it on the calendar, i would’ve obsessed about how many pairs of pants i’d pack, & whether or not i needed two thermos:  decaf and/or just regular coffee.

as it was, andy mentioned offhand on tuesday afternoon that there was an auction in grand rapids, & maybe there was a screenprinting heater (screenprinting is what he does to keep us afloat) that would make his life easier, & would i want to go to grand rapids?  i couldn’t even remember where it was, & bumbled around in my own head, scanning the kitchen for an answer, coming up with only a jumbo pile of dirty dishes.

but grand rapids?  & an impromptu roadtrip?  8 hours in one day with 4 kids in a minivan?

as we were getting the coffee poured into thermoses (i always want to write that word “thermosi”.) to take the kids to art club, i heard myself say, “you better stay home & bid on that heater.”

thirty six hours later, we were in the car at dawn heading north.

after loading the heater into the van in grand rapids, we turned south again & drove to duluth.  andy had pricelined a hotel for $58, so we made a mini vacae out of it, starting by lake superior to walk the beach.  the kids had a ball combing driftwood & scoping sea glass.

walking out there on that sandy, cold beach with my brood scampering ahead of me, it occured to me that i’m a beside-the-lake instead of a in-a-museum kind of girl.  i hadn’t put my finger on that before.

duluth has a special place in my heart, too.  andy got his first job out of college in cloquet, just west of duluth a few miles.  i moved there the following year, after i graduated, & lived in the basement of an old couple in his church, so i could be close to him.  we went to duluth all the time, to sit at barnes & noble & read books & eat expensive brownies with coffee, dreaming all the time of what life could be like.

now that we have a partially clearer definition, it was amazing to be back, a few years wiser, a few kids fuller.

before we hit the hot tub at the hotel, we took the kids down to the pier to climb on the rocks & see the lighthouse.

we didn’t know a ship would leave port as we were walking back to the car.  

that’s how God works, i guess.

i’m reading a book called “bread & wine” by shauna niequist.
she writes, “one of the ways we grow up is by declaring what we love.”

yes, i agree.

i love roadtrips.  to anywhere.  being in the car, with barely a bag packed & a thermos, a novel & a backseat bursting with activity.  with andy driving, & hours on end to talk.

i love walking on the beach on a chilly day, thinking myself tough enough to be outside & not in with the wind cold in my face & my hood up, collecting small bits of sea glass & big armloads of driftwood.

i love playing around with a camera, & showing my kids the places i love that maybe, someday, they might l, too.  or least learn to love their own places in the way i do.

i love big gigantic ships & feeling really, really small.  i love my kids holding hands & how all 3 big kids take special care to look after leif.

i love looking at them & knowing they are mine.

& mostly, i love being surprised by God.  because a roadtrip on a random thursday in november was certainly not on my agenda.

but i’m glad it got written in.

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.