Move from Utah to Maine, Day 5–Road weary, tire weary, weary weary

Yesterday morning in New York demonstrated our growing weariness with the trip, because SOMEONE didn’t retrieve SOMEONE ELSE’S travel pillow even though SOMEONE was trying to help with other loading tasks, and even though SOMEONE ELSE went back to find a lost watch SOMEONE should have noticed a red pillow sitting among the white blankets! Pillow was retrieved, tensions are as thick as the rain-soaked air.

We drove to Palmyra, had tours of cozy farm houses that reminded Dave and I of a few houses we looked at in Maine (to us from Utah, anything older than 150 years is ancient; on the east coast, it isn’t worth noticing until it’s 300 years old) took a lovely walk through a grove of trees, some of us walked up a steep hill while others decided to run straight up it and roll back down it, then we continued on our way east.

I love the Finger Lakes region of New York and can’t wait to explore it more. I’m also looking forward to hipsters finally noticing that the Indian place names would make awesome names for their kids, and I really want to see a kindergartner try to write out Canandaigua.

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5 year-old in seat behind me wanted something from his 13-year-old brother. He said, “I want to see sumfink,” 15 times before his brother finally relented. It was likely more, but I lost count and patience after the last, “I want to see sumfink. Hey, I want to see sumfink . . .” LET HIM SEE IT!!!!

My 13-year-old has been making trash bottles, shoving all the garbage he can into our old Sunny D bottles. Good to have hobbies.

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Progress was good until outside of Troy, New York, when my son in the van behind us noticed a bulge in the back tire of my 15-passenger van which delayed us by us two hours because we had to find a place in the town to pull over, then we realized our old spare tire was cracked, then we had to track down a tire store willing to help us (“We’re closing in 10 minutes–it’s almost 6pm. Call us tomorrow.”), find a place still open for half an hour, pound on their doors and beg them to stop their employee training meeting to get us a new tire, haul it back to the Walmart where we had parked and the kids were retrieving dinner, get it put on, and finally get on our way hours later again.

It was getting dark and starting to rain by the time we hit Vermont, and state I’ve been looking forward to seeing, but will have to see another time.

But the roads also end in Vermont—there was a big sign: “Warning—road ends in 1500 feet.” What the heck does that mean?! I was picturing Shel Silverstein’s “Where the sidewalk ends,” and seeing a cavern opening ominously in 1500 feet. But, fortunately, there was a T and the roads continued only in different names. Note to Vermont: Everyone ELSE in the country would call that a “junction.” Please change your signs before I come back again so I don’t need to panic.

In Vermont there is a store with giant plastic cows on the roof. (Growing too dark to take a picture of it.) Also horses and moose painted like cows.  Maybe I don’t need to see that much of Vermont after all.

There was also a store with literally hundred of Adirondack chairs outside of it. I guess people in Vermont like to sit a lot?

Although we passed through what is likely the cutest town in all of America—a resort with darling inns and shops–I couldn’t pay attention to it in the dark and rain because 10 miles before my 13-year-old announced that he was nauseated and felt diarrhea coming on and all I could think was, “Do none of these cute places believe in gas stations with BATHROOMS?!”

Found one, filled up cars, and waited for son. And waited. He was sort of ok, but we stopped again an hour later for him, which means we didn’t get into New Hampshire until after 10pm, but still we did over our radios every routine we could remember from “What About Bob?”

My 20-year-old observed that the rumble strips in New Hampshire vibrate his seat. We’re calling them the New Hampshire butt massage.

The worst invention in the world is Gas Station TV.

Ill 13-year-old thinks the images on the NH signs look like faces. If the signs start talking to him, then he’s really sick.

I’ve been worried about my husband’s relationship with Siri, his electronic girlfriend who he trusts with directions more than he trusts me (I’m notoriously unreliable) until I heard him yelling at her when she, for the fourth time, failed to tell us how to get to the nearest Walmart. I think he’s just using her for this trip, and when it’s over, he’s going to dump her. Serves her right.

We got to our motel room in Concord, NH just before midnight, too weary to do anything else but flop onto our double-size beds (I worry about the boys’ in their room, who have trouble sharing queen-size beds) and decide we’re going to sleep in a bit this morning and make sure 13-year-old isn’t sick anymore. But he announced as he got to his room, “I could wake up early and go use the swimming pool, couldn’t I?” causing his 17-year-old brother to announce he thinks the sickness was all a ruse just to sit shotgun through the winding roads of Vermont and New Hampshire.

Just as we were drifting off to sleep early this morning, we heard, “Oh—OH! My tooth came out!” I hoped it was my 9-year-old, and I hoped it was a baby tooth. It was, I got her a wet washcloth, took a picture, then said, “Congratulations, but New Hampshire doesn’t have the Tooth Fairy.” (New York toll roads took all our cash). Mother of the year award goes to me.

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It’s raining this morning, so views aren’t too grand yet. But by this afternoon/tonight, depending how slow we are today, we should be official Maineiacs.  I’ll believe it when I see it. “I want to see sumfink!”

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 4–Welcome to the east, Kirtland, and our 29th anniversary

(Current location, Batavia, NY, a town in upstate New York which has at least four different ways to pronounce it and we’re probably still not saying it correctly.)

Something strange happened as I stepped out of our hotel this morning into the heavy, warm, humid air of Ohio. Memories rushed me, and it was as if I were for the first time in many years eating a dessert my grandmother had made me but I’d forgotten about. The mugginess, the trees, the farms, the gray air—suddenly I remembered all about living in Virginia for five years and thought, “Wait a minute—I LIKE this!”

Driving through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York has felt like the states are welcoming me back (we’d visited here a few times over a decade ago), like they’re that friend you had in high school that you forgot all about until she friends you on Facebook, and you think, “Oh yeah! YOU! Oh, I forgot you! I’m so glad we’re together again!”

The east coast is my forgotten high school friend. Every mile I’m getting more excited to renew our friendship.

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Why yes, I do DO feel welcomed!

Shortly after this I heard my 5 and 9-year-olds in the back seat having the following conversation:

“Housebuilder and General Grievous want to come over to play.”

“Ok, but we have to move the silly putty and get out the magnifying glass.”

I just don’t know, I really don’t.

I have to put in a plug about my kids—my three oldest take turns driving and willingly take the younger ones to the restrooms, get them treats, and make sure no one’s missing. Everyone has tasks, and they are all good about retrieving the radios to be recharged, getting everyone’s bags and coolers into the hotel, and packing everything up again. This cart below will be packed to the top before it gets to the elevator:

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(Shortly after this, another woman used this trolley putting on it three small grocery bags. I nearly scoffed and said, “Lady, THAT’S not the way to use that trolley!”)

I don’t even have to deal with my 5-year-old at night because his 20-year-old brother takes care of him. I am incredibly grateful that they are all remaining good-natured, cheerful, and willing each day. They wake up on time, get themselves to the breakfast buffet (which is the BEST part of each day—all kinds of food that I didn’t have to make and that I don’t have to clean up!) then they make seating arrangements, my 18 and 20-year-old trading off driving the minivan depending upon who’s the least tired, my 17-year-old acts as servant to his siblings sitting behind us in the big van, and the 13-year-old is my husband’s navigator in the moving truck.

I thought today, on our 29th wedding anniversary, that my husband and I have been blessed with incredibly good kids, and that they are who they are not because of anything we’ve done raising them, but because they came to us that way. We don’t deserve any of it, I know.

I’m writing today from Batavia, NY, which isn’t too far away from Toledo, OH, and although Siri had us get on and off and on and off the freeway around Cleveland pointlessly (but we got lots of views of it, as you can see below), that’s not why we made so little progress.

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We took a detour to Kirtland, OH, for four hours where we visited the Mormon church sites where the early pioneers were in the 1830s and saw their store, houses, sawmill, and ashery.

(I had NO idea such a thing existed: burn ashes?! That’s like watering water!)

We then took a tour of the Kirtland Temple owned by the Community of Christ and heard the same history, but with different angles which proved to be excellent family discussion during lunch at yet another Wendy’s (although my 17 year old snuck in a Little Caesar’s pizza), comparing the different takes on the history.

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Twelve years ago we did the tour of the Kirtland Temple where the young tour guide pointed out only the architecture, but this time a preacher of the Church of Christ named Rick led the tour. He actually talked about the spiritual significance of the structure, and led our group of fourteen tourists in singing the first verse of “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning.” That’s always been my favorite hymn, and I will never be able to forget the experience of our few out-of-tune voices singing it there in the room where it was first performed and where so many important and fantastic experiences occurred. It was all I could do to keep from tearing up. Our tone-deaf singing actually sounded good together, for probably the first and last time ever.

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We got into our hotel room at a decent hour (before 9 pm!) for once, and compared notes about if the pleasant toll booth worker was perhaps a different gender than they were dressed up to be. My husband now has foot cramps, and my sons are punching his feet to make them feel better. It’s not working, but still they valiantly try with even more punches. I’m doing a load of laundry now, enjoying the broken dryer which runs continuously without any coins needed, wondering what else I could throw in there just for fun.

Tomorrow we’re heading to Palmyra, NY for some touring and then on to New Hampshire, where I’ve always wanted to visit and always wanted to say this:

(Interesting note–that movie was actually filmed in Virginia where we used to live, so actually we WERE in the movie New Hampshire, not the real one. Actually, none of that was really interesting, so just never mind.)

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 3–Preschooler poops, too many “I” states, and I’m worried about food stuff

(Location: Toledo, Ohio. No sightings of Klinger still, but my M*A*S*H fans family are still hopeful.)

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Should you happen to see these three vehicles, that’s us.

I forgot to tell you yesterday that my youngest kids were delighted to find out that fireflies are real, and that they sometimes leave fun glowy spots on your windshield at night. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that meant the fireflies had splatted like all of the other bugs permanently embedded in the glass.

This morning I woke up my husband with the romantic words, “Do you realize our youngest son hasn’t pooped in three days?”

Fortunately 5-year-old did a few hours later in Iowa. Unfortunately it was at a gas station bathroom with only one stall, and while two men waited for their turn to get in, he grunted and groaned while I kept post in front of the door. Occasionally I opened it and asked, “Need any help?” I hope the men waiting heard his loud reply of, “These STINKIES are REALLY HARD to GET OUT!”

Five long, agonizing minutes later, with a line growing to get in there, my youngest finally came out triumphant. “Got them out! They were really hard–”

“Yes, please, let’s just go . . .”

Sometimes our medium-speed truck gets to pass even slower trucks, and I feel like we’ve accomplished something great, until I realize that it’s the equivalent of winning the 50 yard dash at the geriatrics Olympics.

Here’s another brilliant traveling idea: I went to the dollar store before the trip and bought random items for my younger kids: stickers, coloring books, pipe cleaners, dry erase boards–put them in a bag and gave it to them on the first day.

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The bags also work as a catch-all for everything else.

Here’s a BETTER brilliant idea: our friends gave us 12 gifts, two to be opened each day. That’s how we got BB8, and now have puzzles and silly putty and even two cookie sheets to use as little lap tables. Every morning my kids eagerly open two new items.

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BEST brilliant idea: fruit-scented stickers. When my 9-year-old opened up the package, it was like a fruit stand exploded in the car. Considering how ripe it’s becoming in there, that’s not a bad thing. I think there’s another package of the scented stickers, and I’m saving that for our last day on Saturday.

Two hampers of dirty clothes can develop a fermenting quality, especially when positioned where the sun can focus its beam on a particular smelly sock.

The traffic outside of Chicago, which delayed us an additional hour, left all of us nostalgic for the wide open nothingness of Wyoming and Nebraska.

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I can’t tell you how much this truck below has had me worried.

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I just don’t understand it: why are there warnings about explosiveness? And an electricity sticker? And WHAT KIND OF FOOD STUFF IS THIS?!

We ate lunch at a Wendy’s in Illinois, in a town near the birthplace of Ronald Reagan. As I squirted tons of ketchup for our seven 4-for-$4 meals, I remembered fondly that Reagan once classified ketchup as a vegetable for school lunches. Ah, those were the days of great school food!

Maybe the Food Stuff Only truck is related?

All through Indiana I never saw Ron Swanson, who I wrote in for president. All in all a disappointing state. The Food Stuff truck above was there, though. I fear there may be a connection.

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I don’t have a picture of the sign welcoming us to Illinois, because I was asleep while my 18 year-old daughter kindly drove. Later we crossed a river when I was awake and driving, and I radioed my husband, “Is this the Mississippi?”

“No, this is a canal. You slept through the Mississippi River.”

I have no idea where we are sometimes. There are too many states that begin with I and too many rivers that begin with M. We passed one here in Ohio spelled Maumee. Is that pronounced “Mommy”? I really hope so.

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There are toll roads in the east, for those of you in the west. Sometimes they even stump/surprise the locals.

My husband had to get out of his truck since the driver in front of him wasn’t getting her ticket. He’s still not sure what the problem was, why she seemed unable to push the button and retrieve her ticket, but we’re newcomers here. We don’t judge. We just get out of the car after five minutes of waiting for no clear reason to see if we can move things along.

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I’m beginning to think that maybe this is karma of some kind, since my son made others wait impatiently for their “turn.”

Especially if those men ate some of that Food Stuffs that’s electrified and potentially explosive.

The midwest is a scary place.

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 2–Siri lies, “Housebuilder” joins us, and Nebraska is as long as Wyoming

Our 9.5 hour drive took 14+ hours, and I still don’t know why. But we made it to Indianoloa, Iowa, and while I hoped to be more coherent this evening, that ain’t gonna happen, so let’s not even pretend. But I did find a way to download my photos!

Here’s my view of my husband’s big yellow butt that I wrote about yesterday:

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You know how many anagrams you can make from the word “Penske”? Yeah, that many. I have all the words on the truck memorized, and will for the rest of my life.

Here’s what went on today:

5-year-old son woke up so disoriented that he hid in a closet for ten minutes until we lured him out with his new Star Wars underwear. He came out of the closet for Yoda. (Something about that sentence isn’t right, but I’m not sure what yet.)

My husband asked his phone how much road construction there will be after we funneled once again into one lane. It told him the next 3,000 miles were only one lane, but it lied–we had at least five miles of double lanes.

Thank goodness my 5 y.o. is enthralled by long trains and small cows and his new Webkind travel buddy: a gray-and-white koala he’s inexplicably called “Housebuilder.” Housebuilder is best friends with a Bop-It BB8 toy/game our friends gave us as a travel gift. My youngest left them alone in the van so they could eat in private. They sat on his blanket, but I have no idea what they ate while we had lunch at a Veterans’ Memorial park in Nebraska.

Below is my brilliant idea: We bought a ton of snacky foods, divided them, and put them in baggies with people’s names on them. Now each person can eat whatever they like during the trip without bugging anyone to reach into a bin to find something good. I’d show you a picture of mine, but it’s only full of gluten-free, high fiber nutrition treats because I already ate all of my Skittles.

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When a person’s mind gets bored in Nebraska (about as dull as Wyoming, although my 13 y.o. asked to go back to Wyoming because he thought it was slightly more interesting) one starts to look for anything to think of.

But was I composing the prequel to my book series or contemplating the deeper meanings of the cosmos? No. I was obsessed with this trailer I was stuck behind for ten miles:

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IT’S SO WRONG!

First, I spent three full minutes trying to understand “Dont dead, open inside,” until I realized they intended you to read it TOP to BOTTOM. Hey, this isn’t Japan, you know.

Next, WHERE’S THE FREAKING APOSTROPHE?! I got real close (probably too close) searching the sloppy font for it in the DONT, but it’s not there! I even took this photo while driving, looking for apostrophic evidence.

Then I spent the next five minutes running Mission Impossible/Wile Coyote scenarios in my mind as to how I could create a suspension bridge between us, take the Sharpie I had in the van, inch over to the back of the trailer, and FIX THE WORDS!

Then I spent the next too many minutes thinking, “Why would you put zombies in a nice trailer? Transport them in cattle cars–they won’t care: THEY’RE UNDEAD!”

Man, was I glad when that trailer pulled away.

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The items in our trailer are slowly trying to escape. Can you guess what we’re transporting? Two of the pokey-outy-bits have me stumped, and I helped put the tarp on it.

There’s a particular bathroom at a gas station in Nebraska where the men’s urinal is unfortunately placed in relation to the door. Please don’t ask how I know that.

17 y.o. figured out how to take a picture!

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He snapped this and smugly said, “Because of my skill in computer games, I can point and shoot just about anything.”

The reason I don’t have any pictures of the Welcome to Iowa sign is because while we were driving I asked him to open my gluten-free loaf of bread package, and the pressurized bag exploded on him as he ripped it open with his teeth, and he was momentarily overwhelmed by gluten-free gas just as we got on to bridge crossing the Missouri River. Seriously.

Announced on the radio by my husband: “It’s 100% today–every RV is driven by someone with a mustache.” Which sent me on another deep-thought adventure: Is it required that people grow a mustache BEFORE they purchase the RV, or does the RV then make people think, “I need a ‘stache to go along with this”? What about the women? These thoughts kept me going for nearly half an hour, I’m sorry to report.

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Evidence that we’re getting closer to Ron Swanson territory. I’m waiting anxiously to find a “Food and Stuff.”

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I didn’t need a sign to tell me this.

To pretend this trip is something of a vacation, we stopped in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, where Mormon Pioneers fled after being expelled from Illinois, and where they prepared to head to Salt Lake City. We had only an hour there, but realizing that we spent two days driving what took pioneers MONTHS to do was humbling and refreshing.

Here they told us that across the street was a burial ground of 300+ pioneers, more than half of them children who died along the way. Heck, we haven’t lost one of ours yet.

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Then we went to take a picture of the tiny temple there and look at the cemetery, where we could read the names and ages of every last pioneer who died there.

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Then I tried to take selfies of us in front of the temple.

My selfie skills are surpassed.

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I don’t think people are looking. Let’s try that again.

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Did someone get cut off? One more time:

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I feel like people aren’t taking this seriously. Again?

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Ok, something’s seriously wrong with my 13 y. o. He’s the one who thinks Wyoming was more interesting than Nebraska. See if you can pick him out.

It’s now after midnight, and tomorrow (today?) we hope to get somewhere in Ohio, hopefully before midnight. Good night.

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 1–House is cleaned, children are dense, Wyoming is long

Drive from Utah to Maine, Day 1

(Current location, Cheyenne, Wyoming. “No, kids—not Shee-YEE-NEE. I don’t care how you sound it out.”)

Woke up at 3:30 am in Hyrum Utah, because who can sleep when there’s 5 hours of cleaning to do, finishing packing two vans and a moving truck, and an 8-hour drive to Wyoming.

Stared at the dark ceiling until it was the late hour of 5:30 am when I took my hour-long Farewell Tour: I walked my normal route around my neighborhood saying quiet goodbyes and thank-yous to neighbors and friends and watching the coming sun slowly light up the Wellsvilles Mountains. I’ve pretty much run out of tears to shed about leaving where I finally thought we’d settle forever. Today I was just grateful for the time.

Spent the next 5 hours cleaning and cleaning (I’ll have nightmares tonight that I’m still not done), and saying goodbye to friends who dropped by, even though I was hoping for a French Exit, as my mother used to call it. “Sneak away when no one’s looking, and if someone does see you, say only ‘Au revoir’—never say ‘Good-bye’. That’s too final.” Agreed. Still, people insist on being nice and bringing us travel treats and hugs, dang them.

11:45 am took my last stroll through the house where we lived for nine years, where I felt the most at home of any home of the eight we’ve had over 29 years. I said goodbye, it didn’t say anything back (fortunately, but I was pretty tired so I wouldn’t have been surprised).

Took off at noon, each vehicle with a walkie-talkie and naming our vehicles. The moving truck my husband is driving is Jeremy, the minivan where my 20-year-old and 18-year-old drive is Hammond, and I in the 15-pax van am driving is Captain Slow. I wanted to change those designations after we discovered Penske truck rental had helpfully put a 70 mph limiter on the moving truck, and the 80 mph signs taunted us throughout Wyoming.

Less than an hour from home, got a text from my neighbor sad that she missed saying goodbye (French Exit was better—she always gets me crying). I handed the phone to my 17-year-old co-pilot. “Text her back! Tell her I’m sorry too, and that—”

17: “I’ve never texted before in my life, and I’m not about to start now.”

Something you should know about this boy: he’s a 67-year-old curmudgeon trapped in a teenager’s body. He hates kids on the lawn.

17: “Why don’t you call her like people should?”

Me: “This canyon’s dangerous and reception is spotty. Text her back!”

17: “It’s not like either of you is dying. You’ll see her again, if not now that in the eternities.” [eye-roll]

I want a different co-pilot. This one’s ridiculously sensible.

His 9-year-old sister in the bench behind us is bored:

9: Think of a word–

17: Apple.

9: No, let’s play hangman, and you think of a word–

17: Apple.

9: [exasperated sigh] Mom, think of a word.

Me: Ok, it’s got 5 letters. (17 is smirking already)

9: Is there an a?

Me: Yep, first letter.

9: Is there an e?

Me: Last one.

9: [after trying about seven other letters] Is there a p?

Me: Two of them.

9: [long pause] Wait, is it apple?

Hangman takes a long time in our car.

Overheard on our radios as we drove:

“Dad, how far until our dinner stop?”

“Your brother [age 13] say it’s one minute ten seconds away, but the rest of the world would read the tablet as ‘One hour, ten minutes.’”

Our 13-year-old has never been away from a working computer this long in his life. Everything is going to drag for him.

Then: “Dad, those are pronghorns, right?”

“Do they look like cows?”

“Just making sure.”

Everyone has a treat bag to last them for the six days it’ll take to travel. May have to restock by Tuesday afternoon.

Everything in Wyoming is named after butts. Buttes. Whatever. Only 50 miles into the drive I realized I’d be staring at my husband’s yellow Penske butt truck for the next six days. Going to haunt my nightmares along with the worry there’s another level to the house I forgot to clean.

I’ve stared out at the wide vistas many times, taking it all in because I won’t have so many views soon.

I snerk at those on the coasts who lament the country’s too crowded. They never driven through Wyoming. We’ll still be driving through it tomorrow. Since we have many more states to go, and still are only one state away from where we left, it’s not looking to promising. Then I remember the states get smaller as we go east.

The kids romped at the pool at the motel where we landed at 8:30 pm, now everyone’s crashing, as am I. I took pictures—blurry, sideways pictures with my compact camera (yes, I still have one) as I drove because 17 also doesn’t do pictures (I REALLY need a new copilot), but I’m too weary to post any tonight. I took a Benadryl to help me sleep (because I cannot sleep in motels, either). Should be kicking in about ten minutes from now . . . hence the rambling, blobby nature of this.

Picture this, since it will be clearer than my photos: Wyoming is long and wide and filled with scrubby brush. There’s a yellow truck in front of me. Pretty much it.

Tomorrow we will, God willing, make it to Iowa with our two 16-year-old vans, one truck, and six children and two parents. I’m letting 17 get some driving practice in the minivan with his 20-year-old brother on the long straightaways, and I’m looking for a new copilot. My 18-year-old daughter is a genius at texting, even though after a year of college she’s still not sure what a pronghorn looks like or how to pronounce Cheyenne.

What if we just quit bothering with the world? The easiness of essentialism.

What if, instead of worrying about the world and its expectations, we focused on only a couple of key items and let the rest of world just . . . go on its way?

Think about that: maybe there’s only a handful of things we really need to worry about, and as for the millions of other demands the world makes upon us we just ignore them.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?

My friend clued me into “Essentialism,” which redefines minimalism and suggests that we should “discern what is absolutely essential, then eliminate everything that is not.” Greg McKeon argues that we get too caught up in the non-essentials: “non-essentialism is this idea that everything has to be done and that you have to do it all. Everything is equally important so therefore I have to try to do it all. That’s an idea — if I can do it all, I can have it all.”

But what if we don’t bother with doing it all? Why would we want it all anyway?

What if we quit following every news outlet, every fashion, every new-and-latest thing, every competition and demand for our attention, and focus instead on only a few ESSENTIAL points?

We’d be a heckuva lot happier!

Consider how simpler life would be if we:

  • stopped fretting that our houses aren’t up to date (no, you don’t have to put shiplap on every wall),
  • that our kids aren’t excelling in every sport/musical instrument/dance/karate/theatrical production (freeing up afternoons and weekends),
  • that we’re not on top of every trend (anyone remember how fast Pokemon Go came and went? Men’s rompers will go the same way, so don’t give them another thought). 
  • And what if we let the world go on its way . . . without us?

I think about life in the 1800s, how people focused on survival, their immediate family and neighbors, their little communities, and had no idea what the gossip was on the other side of the state or the world. They could think about real things, urgent things, important things.

Whereas we think about silly, petty, and divisive things.

But we don’t have to. We can center our lives on very few priorities and shut out everything else.

So what would those priorities be? How about the only thing that really matters: developing Christlike attributes.

To become like Him is the main reason we’re on this earth, going through this trial of life to see what our hearts really want, and to see how we can become more like Him. And you know what? I’m thinking more and more that being like Christ is the best and only worry I need.

And that “worry” isn’t even a concern. Look what He said in Matthew 11:

 28 Come unto me, all ye that labor [to keep up with the demands of the world] and are heavy laden [with the world’s expectations], and I will give you rest [because we set that all aside].

29 Take my yoke upon you [and throw off what the world expects of you], and learn of me [instead of the world]; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls [because I teach the peaceable things of the kingdom].

30 For my yoke is easy [way easier than anything the world demands], and my burden is light [lighter than anything the world shoves upon you].

Matthew 11:28, We find rest in Christ

And that’s all there is to it.

People assume that because I have nine kids I’m constantly busy and harried. But the truth is–and sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit it–I’m not. Quite often I can spend hours each day in pursuits I enjoy–writing, reading, researching–because we don’t bother with the non-essentials.

My kids aren’t involved in many activities; we don’t run around endlessly every afternoon from one thing to another–I let them entertain themselves like some 1970s throwback mom. I don’t demand perfect grades from them (grades aren’t an indicator of future success anyway), but I let them push themselves, which they do.

My house isn’t spotless or trendy (I’ve got better things to do), I make simple meals for dinner, and, frankly, I’m pretty relaxed most of the time. I almost feel guilty about that . . . but then I decide I don’t need to bother with worldly guilt, either, and let the feeling go.

We take care of each other, study the gospel, go to church, play together, educate each other and . . . that’s about it. Easy.

I am, however, trying to increase the amount of time I spend on others, trying to find additional ways we can be of service, because that’s really the purpose of life: taking care of others as Christ did.

The apostle James put it in simple terms:

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction [taking care of the vulnerable and needy around us], and to keep himself unspotted from the world [ignore the world].  ~ James 1:27

That’s it. Only two things, just like Christ said to the lawyer in Matthew 22:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind [not giving any of your heart, soul, or mind to the world which will treat you cruelly].

38 This is the first and great commandment [which will keep you unspotted and unburdened by the world].

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself [by taking care of the vulnerable and needy].

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets [and you need not bother about anything else].

Simple, sweet, and satisfying! (Unlike the world.)

We can do that. Anyone can do that.

And we should, because consider these words of Christ:

36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall again the whole world [be accepted by it, follow its trends and demands religiously], and lose his own soul? [Worldliness kills the soul—simple as that.]  ~Mark 8:36

I’m not saying it’s easy to shut out the world. I’ve been working on doing that for quite some time now, trying to cut off more and more connections to it, especially through social media. Our family quit TV and radio some years ago (just getting rid of advertisements significantly increased peace in our lives). There are still many aspects I struggle with, and likely will my entire life. It’s hard to live in the world and not have some of it rub off on you, like trying to squeeze between muddy elephants without getting dirty.Image result for herd of muddy elephants

Purposely not doing what everyone else around you is can be a little disconcerting. Sometimes I suffer from FOMO: fear of missing out. But just because the crowd is insistent, just because you feel the need to be like everyone else, you don’t have to be. This image, which I ran across many years ago, has seared deeply into my soul. I want to be that guy.

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I’m discovering that when I ask God how I can step further away from the world so that I can be closer to Him, He gives me ideas, nudges me away from distractions and gently prods me toward more important activities. He wants me and my family to be unspotted, and He wants to ease our burdens. I have full confidence that He can get us all the way where we need—and want—to be, because, awesomely, He’s already done it himself:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace [because haven’t you grown weary of keeping up with the world yet?]. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world [and so can you].”  ~John 16:3

     “You look so tired, Young Pere. So weary, my sweet boy. Did you ever have a day of peace in the world?”
     “No,” he sighed. “Not that I remember.”
     “Then isn’t it time to let go of the world?”
     ~Book 8 (Yes, there’s a book 8!)

Don’t care what the world thinks: 7 steps in the pursuit of peace!

In a quest for a more peaceful existence (I really wish I could live in the world of Books 5 and 6 of my series), I’ve been eliminating that which causes undue stress. No, I’m not abandoning my house or nine children, but I’ve been thinking about my dad, how he was the most calm, pleasant, peaceful man I knew.

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My dad, Rudy Strebel, in 2007, holding a granddaughter.

Not that his life was easy—he suffered as a child in WWII Germany, then had a wife he dearly loved but who had frequent and violent bouts with PTSD from her traumatic life as a refugee. In their 50+ years of marriage, I never knew him to lose his temper with her but did his best to soothe her paranoia and terror, every time. And I can count on three fingers the amount of time he slightly raised his voice at me.

He chose to be peaceful, and he was also very careful as to what he let into his life. He didn’t read, watch, or listen to anything that could harm his spirit or drag him down.

He wasn’t ignorant of the world, but he purposely distanced himself  from it to remain unspotted as it splashed in filthy waters.

Lately I’ve been trying to pursue peace as he did, and have implemented ways to limit what weighs down my mind and soul. I’ve incorporated a number of minimalist ideas, and I’m finding greater calm in my life by doing the following:

  1. Unsubscribe! To those emails that entice you to see what’s on sale, what the latest thing is, what you “really don’t want to miss!”

Miss it anyway. Don’t be lured in, don’t be tricked into buying something simply because it’s a great deal, and don’t waste time reading what can’t elevate you. It’s all distracting, even just deleting it, having to swat it away like a pesky mosquito. Get rid of them altogether. I’ve been opening, scrolling down, and unsubscribing from dozens of emails–even from places where I still buy something once or twice a year–and my feeds are cleaner, sleeker, and calmer. All that remains now is that which is really important for me to consider.

2. Unfollow! Here’s an awesome feature on Facebook: stay friends, but stop seeing every little thing they do.

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I’ve realized that I care only about my family (we have a secret group just for us), and some neighbors and friends who consistently demonstrate insight and humor–qualities I value.

The other hundreds of “friends”? I’ve unfollowed them. I can always check on them every few months if I feel the need (if I remember who they are).

In the meantime, I’ve cut out a mind-cluttering stream of whining, bragging, complaining, and comparing. It’s been like leaving junior high all over again–sweet relief!

Now I have a feed of primarily funny, inspiring, and heartfelt posts.

Twitter, Instagram, all those others? I don’t even go there, but you can also pare those down significantly to refine your life.

3. Tune out! I quit listening to the radio years ago and felt my blood pressure in the car normalize instantly. We never watch TV news, I skim the newspaper for only important news, and I’ve quit following nearly every online news outlet.

The result? The world keeps on churning but I don’t have to swim in that muck. I know what’s going on, but I observe only from a distance. Getting angry over the world doesn’t fix it. Stepping away from it, however, allows me to continue raising my family with peace of mind.

4. Ignore trends! Years ago, I quit following trends in home décor, clothing, and etc. by eliminating magazines and TV shows that told me what I had was out of date. How much more I love my house and wardrobe now that I’m not worried what the world thinks of it! And I’ve saved a lot of money, too.

And no one, ever, has said anything about me not being trendy enough. It’s like no one really cares.

5. Don’t participate! Like my dad, I’ve chosen to not listen to music that degrades or is “hard.” I listen to soundtracks and trailer albums instead. I read only books that satisfy and uplift; one summer, I sent back nearly a dozen library books after their first chapters because they were smutty, suggestive, or crude. I don’t watch rated-R movies or anything excessively violent, vulgar, or profane. All of that introduces anger and angst to my soul, qualities I’m purposely ushering out.

Yes, it’s sometimes hard to find something current to watch or read, but there are also a lot of classics out there waiting to be discovered. I’m also taking up my dad’s habit to read more biographies of truly great people, and more doctrinal works that teach me deeper about the nature of God.

6. Choose kindness! This one can be tough, especially for me because I inherited my mother’s cynical mind and tongue (when she was well, she was acerbic and hilarious). My father, however, while full of dad-jokes (he invented them all), was also unfailingly kind, even to his end. He suffered from Alzheimer’s, but the staff at his assisted living center said that while many in his condition became angry or violent, my dad never did. It was as if his mind had been choosing for so long to be kind that it simply didn’t understand rudeness.

Kindness softens the soul, and when I’m kind to people, especially strangers, sweet peace comes. As an introvert, I don’t like talking to people and tend to be abrupt with strangers, especially when I’m checking out with my groceries. I need this t-shirt:

Introverts t-shirt

But I’m trying harder to smile genuinely, thank sincerely, and respond to their questions with more than two-word answers.

I’m also trying to consider everyone with a kinder heart, and a more generous attitude. Even just thinking kindly brings peace.

7. Be quiet! No, not “kindly shut up,” but I mean, take time to be quiet and disconnect. Yesterday it was 85 degrees, so I took my 5-year-old son to a splash pad. I watched him for 45 minutes racing the sprays and screaming when the water went up his nose. He dried off for ten minutes and we watched a front-loader moving dirt the whole time, seeing how much dirt he dropped as he drove.

It was “quiet” in that I wasn’t listening to music, or playing on my phone, nor was I even reading. I was simply enjoying the water splashing, the boy yelling (happily), and the truck moving dirt. Purely peaceful, purely disconnected from the bigger world. I could focus on the most important part of the world, right in front of me. 

I am finding greater quiet and calm in my life in a world that’s increasingly not, and I’m always looking for new strategies. What works for you? How do you eliminate the world and its nonsense, and find peace and serenity instead?

“We don’t care about what the world thinks of us, Young Pere. You know that. We left it behind and have never regretted it.”

Peto realized there were many pure men and women, but they couldn’t exist in the polluted world.

~ Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon      

I don’t understand why people like lighthouses and lobster boats—a plea for enlightenment!

In a few weeks I’m moving to the coast of Maine, and I have a problem. I don’t understand something vital to the culture: the appeal of lighthouses and lobster boats.

I need some serious education here because these are iconic symbols. But when I see a lighthouse I think, “What a rickety old building. I guess it’s clever to build it round, but why didn’t they build it into a square shape? And why is it still here?”

Image result for maryland lighthouses

Umm, ok. So it’s a round tower. Why should I like this?

I went through a lighthouse on the mid-Atlantic coast with some relatives a few years ago, and as we left the falling-apart, mildewy structure, I commented, “Someone should just knock this down and improve the view.”

You would have thought that I suggested cutting up the Declaration of Independence to use it as toilet paper.

That “ruining the view” attitude is also my problem when it comes to lobster boats. They’re rusty, look perpetually 60 years old, and get in the way of seeing the water and trees around. But there’s some romantic mystique that I’m missing, because people have photos and paintings of lobster boats everywhere, and some folks even decorate with buoys and lobster traps.

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I can’t see the scenery for the boats!

I feel like Ben Wyatt in “Parks and Rec,” discovering that everyone in Pawnee is enamored with a miniature horse named Lil’ Sebastian. But he doesn’t get it. “It’s just a small horse,” he points out, and everyone glares at him.

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To me, the lobster boats would be like seeing a long-haul vehicle in front of the majestic Tetons. Get that vehicle out of the shot!

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Or visiting a lighthouse is like going to tour a motor home instead of looking at the Rocky Mountains behind it. Why are we looking at this?

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We value what our culture trains us to value, which is why I love the mountains and Yellowstone and the rugged, wild west. A relative from the east coast, however, once went through Yellowstone and came back with this shocking evaluation: “Three days of just bison, hot water, and no TV? I’ve had enough of that dullness to last me a lifetime.”

Oh! Blasphemy!

Then again, this was the person who took me through the lighthouse and thought it was the greatest thing for a hundred miles around.

And I thought it was . . . dull.

You can see that I have a problem—the coast isn’t my culture and I don’t yet know how to appreciate it. I’ve tried researching this, but the assumption is that everyone already knows why lighthouses and lobster boats are appealing.

I want to learn. My parents learned how to embrace their new culture of the wild west after they immigrated from Germany. They learned to love barbecues, pioneers, deserts, and even said “Howdy” on occasion, and meant it!

So I’m issuing a plea: Explain to me the charm, lore, and love of lighthouses and lobster boats. Why are they appealing? Why should I get excited when my dear husband says we’re going to visit them?

Teach me to love the culture of my new home.

If I’m doing the wrong thing, TELL ME!

English was my mother’s second language, and she had a good command of it except for one word: she pronounced “crazy” as if it began with a g—“grazy.”

As a teenager, that drove me grazy-crazy, and finally one day I told her that.

“What?!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been saying it wrong all these years, and NO ONE TOLD ME?”

“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” I said meekly.

“But I sounded like a fool in the meantime and looked like an idiot. You should have told me sooner!”

I’ve thought of her anger and humiliation (she was studying Shakespeare at the time, just for fun, and usually beat me in Scrabble) and realized that I didn’t do her any favors by not correcting her errors.

I’ve seen a spate of postings and blogs lately about “loving” people and not correcting them when they stumble, because that’s “judging.”

Love=good.

Judging=bad.

But what about correction?

When a child writes the letters in their name backwards, or a teen driver crosses the double yellow line, or they punch in 10 minutes instead of 1 minute on the microwave, we CORRECT them: show them the mistake and help them fix it. That’s not judging or condemnation or shaming. That’s HELPING them get things right.

If ever I’m on the wrong track with something—an idea, a philosophy, a belief—please, TELL ME!

Don’t let me wander off some literal or proverbial cliff because you’re worried about “offending me.” Maybe you’re wrong, maybe I’m wrong, but let’s get it figured out.

People are quick to pull out the “God loves me anyway” argument, in all its various forms, but conveniently forget this in Proverbs 3:

11 My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:

12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

Love=correction.

Here’s love in action:

Young Pere said to his grandmother, “How about, you love me enough to let me go?”

Mahrree stared at him before saying, slowly, “If I love you enough, I will allow you to do something that I believe is potentially damaging to your soul?”

“Yes.”

“Young Pere, you were more logical when you were eight! What kind of nonsense is that? If you love me enough. I love you enough! I love you so much that I’ll refuse to let you do such a thing without a better reason, even if you throw a fit and declare you’ll never speak to me again! That’s how much I love you, you ridiculous boy.” (Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon)

Friends and family, love me enough to tell me when you think I’m making a mistake. Correct me, even if you think it may offend me.
How else will I know what the right thing is to do?

Because I want to avoid this:

Mahrree was worried about whose side she was really on. The only way someone could be “surprised” would be because they were sure they were on the Creator’s side, but weren’t.

What if they were already on the wrong side and didn’t recognize it?  (Book 2, Soldier at the Door)

By this same token, be warned that I will tell you if I think you’re doing the wrong thing.
You may become offended, that’s fine with me.
You may unfriend me. Again, that’s ok.
But I love you enough to tell you the hard truth, as I see it, to correct you if I worry you’re heading down the wrong lane.

I may be wrong (it’s happened quite frequently), but know that I will speak up because I don’t want you making bad choices, and I expect you to do the same for me.

I don’t want any of us to go grazy.

BOOK 6, “Flight of the Wounded Falcon” IS HERE! Get it 3 ways (one is free)!

Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon is ready! And you can get it three ways:

  1. Kindle download, click right here. Priced at 99 cents, that means you’re paying only, umm  . . . well, hardly anything per the 240,000 words. (This is why I majored in English, not math.)
  2. Paperback, on CreateSpace for now, but will be on Amazon by the end of the week. Click here to purchase for $14.85. That’s the cheapest I can price it, but even then per page that’s only . . . well, still not a bad price for 665 pages.
  3. PDF download, FREE right here. Yes, as I’ve written before, I want to provide my books for as cheap as possible or even free. So every book I publish is also always available on my site here under “Start Reading the Books.” (That’s misleading because you can also finish reading the books there as well.) I feel these stories have been freely shared with me, and so I freely share them with you.
    The only catch is that you cannot profit on them by trying to resell them. I’m not profiting either: I earn only a handful of pennies on each book I sell, and donate 100% of that to charity.

SO GO GET IT! Read it! Then let me know what you think, because I love to hear from you. (And for now, I’m going to take a small break and a big breath.)

Book 6 is HERE

All of this is such a strange, strange process. Every time I publish a book I collapse in relief. Sections of this particular book I drafted eight long years ago (the very first images of this series came to me almost a decade ago), and to see yet another branch of it finished is overwhelming.

Back when I first tried drafting this “short story” I wondered if I’d ever get all of it out there, birthed and living. (Books are alive, we all know that.) Every night I’d send the drafts I had written to my email, terrified that all of the work I’d accomplished would be lost. (Then I discovered Dropbox and my email became tidier.) Still, the larger this series grew, the more I fretted that I’d never get it all done. But now it’s 6/8 finished (pretty sure that’s 3/4–I have some math skills) and books 7 and 8 are rarin’ at the gates, desperate to be done as well. They’re well developed, nearly mature, but still suffering from a few growing pains that we’ll work out, no doubt.

But writing is such an odd process in that it’s so involving of one’s entire heart and soul, yet no one outside knows it.

Writing (drafting, editing, researching, formatting, editing, reformatting, editing) is a completely consuming endeavor done solely, quietly, alone-ly (that really should be a word; and no, I don’t mean lonely–there’s absolutely nothing lonely about this). The triumphs of getting this aspect fixed or that part done happens without any fanfare, without cheering crowds, without even a ding of congratulations from my laptop. This past week I mentioned to my kids that after 50 hours I got the covers right and formatting issues resolved, and they said, “Good job!” in the same way I’d say it to my 13-year-old when he tells me something he accomplished on Space Engineers. Clueless, but kind.

My family has no idea when I’ve just killed someone or just saved them. No one in the real world sees the process beyond the tapping at the keyboard. When I go walking with my earbuds in, no one I pass realizes the trials and torments I’m currently putting my characters through, and that I’m walking to help them out again. That the music I hear and the scenes in my mind are anything but as quiet and calm as the mountains before me. I’m striding through battles, I’m walking through heartache, I’m sauntering through celebrations, I’m meandering through joy.

Oh, how I wish you could be with me for every step of the way! For the moments I stop suddenly and exclaim, “I didn’t see that coming!” For the times when my fingers leave the keyboard to make fists that I punch in the air in triumph, either for a character or for myself, because I finally–finally–got something right after spending hours a day, day after day, early in the morning, late at night, or while I’m waiting for the water to boil for dinner. The wins happen about twice a month, about once every 90 hours. But oh, what fantastic wins!

But no one else sees this. No one else knows the schizophrenia of a writer’s mind, how we’re juggling a variety of realities all at once, and often struggle to be in the real one at the correct time. No wonder so many writers are unstable. No wonder so many frequently drink. (Since I’m a Mormon I resort to chocolate chips.)

No wonder so many people give up, or don’t even start that book that picks daily at their brains, begging to be let out, but doesn’t tell the brain how to release it. It’s maddening, like looking at a pile of wood, drywall, wire, pipes, and shingles, and told to make it into a house but you’re not given any plans, any diagrams, no idea how it should look in the end. Why would anybody take on such an endeavor?!

But oh, those materials are just sitting there, with so much potential, so many possibilities that you just can’t walk away, just can’t pretend it’s not there, especially when God repeatedly turns you around and gently pushes you back to the pile. You just HAVE to start sorting the two-by-fours, laying out the framework, again and again and again, until something really interesting starts to happen. You’ll destroy it and remake it a hundred times over until you realize you’ve given it your all and you have to let someone come wander in what you’ve created. You cringe the whole time they do, because you’ve spent years on this, building and fixing and tossing and adding, and you know there’s still more that could be done, but it’s time to let someone else into that massive and complex structure you had no idea you could build, but suddenly here it is.

And you step away, hold your breath, and let everyone in, all the while glancing around and mumbling, “Did I really do this? Is it all holding together?” You tense, waiting for the criticisms that are sure to come, and the praises you know you don’t deserve, until you realize you didn’t do it for those words. You didn’t even do it for yourself, although you wrote the books you’ve always wanted to read. But you did it for those characters, to let them live their lives, to let their world exist, and if they’re happy with what you’ve fleshed out for them, then who cares what anyone else thinks.

And then you wonder, “Can I possibly do it again? There’s another pile of material, right there, pleading to be put together, but do I have it in me to do it all again?”

Oh, yes, God willing, you have to! Because this is life, why you were born, and what you’ve waited thousands of years to accomplish, and it’d be unthinkable to quit.