Family Stories

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We just got back from a little road trip out to the far side of North Dakota for a family reunion on my mother’s side.  The Langager family is very dear to me, and this reunion was unique in the fact that the location was picked based off of where my great-grandparents homesteaded when they came over from Norway.  Another thing that made it special was my grandparents decided to come, even though they decided awhile ago that they were not traveling anymore from their home in Arizona.  (It wouldn’t be the first time they went back on this decision, but this was especially surprising as my Grandpa has suffered from some mini-strokes and dementia and has had to be in a secure living facility to prevent him wandering and getting lost.)

Well, when Grandpa and Grandma decided to come, Grandpa’s little sister (and only remaining living sibling) who also has declared her traveling days were done decided to come from Florida, because she was not going to passed up by her big brother.

It was about a half a day drive for us, which isn’t too bad.  Our kids have trouble traveling long distances, and so we planned into the travel day several stops at playgrounds across the state.



IMG_3336-1The reunion started at my mom’s cousin Kathy’s farm just outside of Williston.  A little over 100 Langagers from all over the world met on the lawn, and and it was a heavy, humid day.

From there we all caravanned to all the old sites.  First stop was the graveyard.


Every family reunion we went to when I was growing up had my grandpa and his siblings and all their families.  My grandpa was the 7th of 8 children, and when all 8 got together we nicknamed them the “Super 8″ and they were each so incredible and made a huge impact on each of our lives.  My great aunts and uncles were the kind of people who would pull me into their laps when I was a child, and with great love say, “Gretchen, do you know I pray for you every day by name?  You are a treasure from the Lord.”

They were that kind of people.

Actually, though, there were 9 siblings, as little Ester died when she was about 3 weeks old of pneumonia out there on the prairie.

The graveyard was very small, next to the foundation of a church.  The basement was dug, and the homesteaders in the area met there for services where my great-grandpa preached until a proper pastor could be obtained.  My grandpa was baptized in that little basement.  However, they never got the money to build the church past that, and eventually the tiny congregation moved to churches further out.  All that remains now is the foundation to that basement next to a few graves, including my Auntie Ester’s here.  “Budded on earth to bloom in heaven” the marker says.

The story goes that it was so cold that time of year that she could not be buried until spring.  So they laid her body in the attic of the barn in a little cradle.  Her big sisters would do their chores out in the barn and sneak up there and pet her head, tuck in her frozen body, and silently mourn her loss all winter long until the ground thawed enough to dig a grave.  It definitely put a picture on how hard and cruel life was out there on the frontier.


Of course the scenery has changed since the early 1900s, or even 10 years ago, as there were oil fields across the horizon.  I went to Williston often as a child, and I could not believe how much it has changed.    I wonder what my great grandparents would have thought of that.  In town, parking lots were full of pick up trucks, and scattered across the horizon were temporary homes that looked like a field of shipping crates with a door and window slapped on each of them.  Construction was everywhere.


The next stop was the 2 room schoolhouse where my grandpa and his siblings attended, as well as several of my mom’s cousins.  I’m told that it was actually in very pristine condition up until a few years ago when the oil workers filled the town to the brim, man camps became a common sight, and this was a common squatter’s spot and it became quite vandalized.


(Knut and my cousin James walking my grandpa over the rough ground to tour the inside of the school.)


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The ground was knee deep in grass and wild sage, and it smelled incredible.  Grandpa showed us which was the primary school room and which was the secondary.  All the stories Grandpa told me growing up all of a sudden has a visual picture to match the action.  Like when a bully loosened the wagon wheel on his buggy as a prank, and Grandpa’s little sister Marie nearly got hurt so Grandpa challenged the bully “Arne” I think, to a fight in the school barn amongst the horses.  Grandpa lost and got his nose broken.

The last part of the tour we went to the original homestead site, and got to experience how far exactly the covered wagon with a coal stove inside drove the kids to school those cold winter months.


My grandparent’s actual home is no longer there.  It was moved to the city of Williston long ago, and still stands there.  The foundation has been plowed under, making way for a wheat field.  The neighboring homestead, though, belonged to my great-grandpa’s brother, Tonnes.  When my great-grandparents came over from Norway, they stayed with his brother Tonnes in a shack behind his house, (about the size of our chicken coop), until their house was built down the lane.  My great-grandma birthed a few of her babies in that little chicken-coop sized guest house as well.  (The shack is behind the house, and not pictured here.  The little building that is seen next to the house must have been some kind of barn or carriage house.)


Tonnes eventually sold the place to my great-grandparents who then passed the place onto my grandpa’s oldest brother, Otto, who lived there many years.  It has been abandoned several years now.  I wish we could have toured the place on foot, but we were all tired and ridiculously hot, and the Bible camp we were all staying at was serving supper at 6 and we were running late.  So our caravan just drove past.

I hope to share with you 1 more post about our little trip tomorrow.  Today was the good pictures and history, and tomorrow is the fun stories of the time with our family.  I have to write out the memories of this trip before they get lost up there in my head.  These people are just so precious to me.  I’m overflowing with thankfulness.



Sunny Skies

After much preparation, we packed up everyone and headed out to visit my family down in Arizona and California.  We have traditionally driven down in the 2 day (15 hours each) drive, but last year we skipped it as I didn’t think I could make the trip with my bad neck, and the year before was especially bad with 3 of the kids getting sick on the way down.  This year we finally bit the bullet and flew us all down, even though it required we drive 3 hours to a cheaper airport.  While the 3 1/2 hour flight beat 2 long days driving for sure, it wasn’t a piece of cake either.

Ingrid and David had the toughest time, but the rest of the kids were pretty good troopers.  Solveig kept telling me.  “I’m not afraid of heights.  I like looking outside.”  When we landed, I instinctively put my hand across Ingrid, and I think the landing startled her so bad that once we slowed down and I put my hand down, she grabbed it and put it back on her tummy just in case it happened again.
We are here now, though.  My neck is in bad shape.  Handling the kids along with Knut, and just sitting for so long which hurts, was rough.  Actually, at baggage claim once we landed, I was feeling nauseous from the pain, and sat in a pile of coats and backpacks.  Knut took the kids over to get the checked bags.  One by one he brought the ornery, overtired ones back to my pile of stuff, and after a few minutes, I was sitting with my head in my hands, on a pile of stuff, surrounded by 3 kids who skipped naps and were over an hour past their bedtime, screaming, and Knut and 2 other kids (Silje and Elias) were helping him haul the rest of the bags over to us.  We had drawn quite a crowd at that point, of people chuckling about how tough it is to fly with kids, and a very nice service man loaded up all our bags on his cart and brought it out to the drive-up for us where we were to meet my parents.  Really, we encountered only friendly people who were delighted to see kids running around the whole trip.  Even business men, would pull out their phones and show us pictures of their kids they were missing.  That made me happy that our crazy brood was welcome everywhere.  In the past I remember getting glaring looks whenever we brought an infant with us on a plane.  It wasn’t so this time.
It is so good to be “home” though.  This morning I woke up feeling better, and the kid have been having fun being at Grammy and Papa’s house.  I’m taking it easy.  The kids absolutely love not having to wear coats.  When taking into account wind chills back home, it’s nearly 100 degrees warmer here.  Well, not today actually.  It’s the coldest day today for the trip, being in the low 60s.  It will soon be much warmer.  My mom is trying to bundle my kids for this cold spell, which they find funny.

My mom got each of the kids a blank notebook and a bunch of scrapbook supplies so they can document their fun vacation.  They’re really having fun with that.

David is having the toughest time, not understanding the lack of wide open spaces, and wanting to run and run, and not having quite enough back yard to suit the speed of his legs.  Thank goodness for parks!  I’m looking into getting adjusted while I’m down here, as I’m still hurting from the trip down, and honestly a little nervous about flying back already.  I need to not think about that right now.  Right now we have some lovely days with my parents and grandparents, and then we’re driving to San Diego to visit my sister and her family by their new home just a few short miles from the beach.

Then we will visit my brother out in Los Angeles, who has a very special surprise for them that is so secret, that I shouldn’t even blog about it.  We’ll also see some dear friends of ours, and then head back to my parents for some rest before we head home.

As a mom of 5 kids, I’m loving so much being “mothered” by my mommy.  I have missed not being here.  My kids felt at home instantly (even little Ingrid), even though they hadn’t been here in 2 years.    My mom is showing them pictures of my brother and sister and I and they are all getting so much attention.  My Papa (wonderful step-dad) had to work a bit today, and David has been anxiously waiting for him to come home so they could play chess.  Papa was his original chess teacher, and I have a feeling there will be dozens of games before we make the next leg of our journey.

I’m Blessed

This morning has a Fall-ish feeling to it.  We felt the need to put on slippers and wrap ourselves in sweaters.  It will likely warm up soon, but there is definitely a change in the air.  I’m tempted to put up Fall decorations, but Knut still forbids it.  I’m not sure if he’s ready for Fall yet.  :)

My parents are on their way home today to Arizona.  We’ve had a really good time, like always.  As always, we put them to work, as they always insist on “doing life” with us when we are here, instead of pulling everything to a full stop and “vacationing mode.”  It works best that way with little kids around.  We did spend some time out at the lake, though, and played lots of games and stayed up late talking a few times.

Last night we reminisced over all the things we have done when they have visited us.  We have taken them to a wedding of our friends, and a funeral of Knut’s grandpa.  Over the years we have involved them in painting the summer kitchen, peeling wallpaper, fixing a chimney, and now, siding the barn.  They do probably 30 sink loads of dishes while  they’re here, as I barely have a chance to say “Oh, I can do that, sit down” before it’s just done.

It’s not done yet, but one of the 2 difficult sides got done, and a lot of the second difficult side.  All the curves and windows and doors made for lots of tedious measuring.  So I heard.  I just watched…mostly from the kitchen, trying to keep up with the garden produce…still.

I also invited over some of Knut’s cousins for the afternoon who are only in town once a year, and we missed them last year.  Then some of my mom’s cousins were in town the next day, so we had another day of visiting and passing around stories.  Lots of pie has been consumed.

The day my parents got here, Silje excitedly took out her bunny, Muffy, and we watched her hop around the porch as Silje told them all about her beloved rabbit.  We stuck her back in her cage, and went on with things.  The next morning, we found her nearly dead in her cage, barely breathing.  We got her out, called the vet, and before anything could be done, she died.  I have no idea what happened.

Talking to a rabbit breeder, this sometimes happens.  Apparently baby rabbits are as touchy as baby chicks.  Sometimes there just isn’t a reason.  She had spilled her water in the night, and her feet were a bit wet, but that is the only thing we can think of that happened that was bad.  Could a few hours of wet feet do her in?  Granted, she was not in the hutch we were planning for her with the softer bedding, yet.  Oh, the guilt that goes with all of the should-have’s in our mind.

Later that week, I got a message from a local breeder who didn’t have any rabbits to sell in the breed that Silje wanted awhile ago.  She said she was about to visit her friend 2 hours away, who bred the Holland Lop bunnies Silje wanted, and had some does available.  If we wanted any, she’d be happy to bring some back for us.

So I told her to bring us two.  Get right back on the horse, right?  So “Princess” and “Pepper,” our 2 new bunnies are now cozy in the chicken brooder, which is a much larger, more cushy bedding space for rabbits.  (Pictures to come.)  All of that happened during this week’s visit as well.  The bunnies can have that big space until we get new chicks this spring, and hopefully we’ll have a bigger hutch for them ready by then, as we’ll get a buck down the road from this breeder as well.  Watch out 4H, Silje will be at the fair with rabbits next year, by hook or by crook.  It has been quite a roller coaster week of emotions for Silje.  I was so blessed to be able to just hold her and mourn with her as she cried, and I was so surprised and delighted that we heard news of new available rabbits at just the right time.

The kids are heartbroken to see Grammy and Papa go today, too.  They pour so much time into each of the kids while they are here.  We can’t wait for them to retire and turn into snowbirds, spending their summers up here near the farm.

Oh, I love my parents.  I’m so blessed when they are here.  I’m also so excited to be starting a new school year with the kids next week, and the knitter in me is squealing for joy that the weather is turning cold.  What can I say.  I live in a cold place and love it.

I’m blessed.

I’m Blessed

Elias at the sling shot range.

I asked David to take a picture of me doing the slingshot.  He got my elbow, which is pretty close.

We just got back last night from a long family weekend away.  We returned to a place very special to me.  I worked out at this camp 16 years ago.  It can’t be that long, but I did the math twice, and that’s what the calculator says.  I just had a service job.  I cleaned dishes and toilets, and helped out in a number of jobs.  It still holds my heart as my favorite job ever, besides the one I have now.  My “bosses” back then still work there now.  Really, they were more like mentors with high expectations than bosses.

In the last 16 years, the camp has continued to grow, and has had a chance in recent history to expand their property on the lake, and take on new campers.  Silje and David have had a chance to go multiple times, and next summer will be Elias’ first chance to go by himself.  I have been able to attend their quilting retreats in the spring twice, though it doesn’t always work out for me to go.  This place is a sanctuary for me, and I hope will be for my kids as well.

3 times a summer, they hold a family camp, where whole families can rent cabins and stay out there.  Since we normally go down to Arizona to visit my family for vacations, we haven’t done this, as we can’t exactly do 2 vacations a year.  But Elias and Solveig really struggle with carsickness, and we decided to let them get a big older before we take the big road trip again.  I hope next year.  We need to figure that out because my sister and her family are moving from Phoenix to San Diego, and so now our family will be split.  So it’s very likely our next family vacation will be in San Diego.  We just haven’t even gotten to the point of discussing it, so we’ll see.  My brother lives in California too, and has just flown to meet us at my parents in Phoenix when we go.  But now with 2 siblings in California, that may be our new meeting place. Then again, I’m longing to go to South Carolina these days too…but that’s another long story.  We also have plans for a trip down to Florida, as we have family dotted the whole way down there, and the same out to Oregon.  Not enough time…not enough time.

At any rate, we decided to spend our vacation differently this year, and we spent a long weekend out at Bible camp, for the first time as a whole family.

–I was blessed that the little ones actually slept well, in beds that were not their own, in a strange place.  Well, Ingrid woke up early most days, but overall, we slept.  That was my main concern.

–I was so blessed to sit and eat full meals prepared for me.  With the food prep and dealing with the garden produce this time of year I was longing to leave the kitchen and just not look at it for a few days.  

–I was so blessed by sunsets on the lake, hearing loon calls, sipping tea, talking with old friends.

–I was so blessed with humility.  Yes, humility.  I had gone to one of the sessions on parenting, and afterward, went to go pick up the little ones from the nursery.  Knut would have gone with me but was dying to go on the adventure course.  I didn’t think my back could handle it, so I picked the parenting class.  Anyway, I went to pick up the little ones since my class was done first.  We started back to our cabin so we could get a diaper change for Ingrid, and put the other kids’ crafts there while we were eating.  Elias didn’t want to put his craft there, and Ingrid wanted food, not a clean diaper, and Solveig was along, but not crying.  She was too delighted with her craft.

I passed Silje on her way to the dining hall where we were all supposed to meet, and told her that if she saw Daddy, to tell him I’m at the cabin, and he needed to come help me.  Ingrid had flung her body in such a way in my arms that my neck just hurt and I needed him to help.

She told him I was at the cabin, but forgot to mention I needed help.  So Knut and Silje and David just got in line for lunch.

I got the diaper changed, through the screams, my head began to pound as I felt a serious headache coming on, and tears started to warm my eyes.  I was more scared of how bad it could get then hurt.  Elias was overtired, and I walked with the 3 little ones, slowly, slowly back to the dining hall.  Knut didn’t come.  As we got close, I was hurting so badly I just sat down and let Elias and Solveig run the rest of the way as they could see Daddy in the food line in the distance.  (It was a picnic that day.)  Ingrid was just screaming at me, and I just couldn’t will myself to go up to the line with so many tears in my eyes, and feeling so weak.  I didn’t want anyone seeing me like this.

Thankfully, one of the amazing staff people saw me, and asked if she could help.  Ingrid went straight to her, and she carried her over to Knut, and told Knut I needed some help.  More staff jumped in to help Knut with the kids who all needed a cup or their food cut, etc.

My old mentor/boss came over to hug me for awhile, as I told her how much I struggled being weak in front of my kids, and other people.  I told her how I just hated being limited physically like this, and I didn’t like having to constantly admit to people my weakness.  I hate picking out which activities I think my neck can handle, and saying no to activities I love.  She just spoke so much Scripture into my heart.  She talked about how when we are weak, God is strong.  She talked about God’s grace covering all, and how God is using my weakness to teach my kids the things they need to learn.  He is equipping them through my weakness.

–I’m blessed that I have weaknesses, because my kids need to see that.  They will be blessed through it.

–I’m blessed with the special moments I got with each of our kids while we were at camp.  Knut got to take some canoeing, I got to take some to the slingshot range, David won the carpet ball tournament.  The little girls spent hours at the playground and enjoyed some parachute games as well.   I had a special moment with David when he just needed some prayer, and I got to point him to our great God.  The same opportunity happened with Silje during sunset overlooking the lake, when she needed reminding to bring her cares to God, and I just got to sit and pray with her about the things weighing on her heart.  I was so blessed to be there.  I already see in both of them that they get frustrated with their weaknesses and limitations as well.  It’s a human condition.

–I’m so blessed to come home to our animals, raspberries, flowers, work, and just this life I love so much.  As always, as much fun as vacations are, coming home and sleeping in my own bed is one of my favorite parts.

How has God blessed you this last week?