Dearest Grit Friends,
I feel as though I am writing to a loved one from whom I have been absent from for many months. I have much to tell you about! I have been keeping up with things relatively well on my personal blog but have seriously neglected you. Therefore, I will give you a run down of our last few months here in Oshkosh, pulling excerpts where I think we need them. I’m sorry for the delay; once again, life happened and it seems that winter is full of fun even without an active garden!
In mid-November, we traveled to Minneapolis for a Farmer’s Union weekend and I wrote about it here:
I find myself at an ergonomically pleasing hotel room desk, sipping sub-par complimentary coffee and listening to a Japanese radio station via iTunes. In the background, Andy is finishing his shower and the window to my left show the city skyline, still dark but busy with cars zipping by.
I have a moment of serene peace before we head out for today's activities and I am trying to soak it all in. Our children are safe with our dear friends in Omro and should probably be awake and begging for oatmeal about now.
We arrived in the Twin Cities yesterday afternoon in a nice rental car and full of good conversation. Our purpose in being five hours from home is a leadership training event put on by Farmer's Union Enterprises (FUE). An offshoot of National Farmer's Union, FUE is the brainchild of Farmer's Union Industries, a for-profit investment arm of the non-profit National Farmer's Union. Farmer's Union Industries helps fund numerous outreach events and workshops to enable rural communities and farms to work together to build up resources and rely on one another to sustain and survive. One of the problems they faced several years ago was how to motivate young farmers and rural couples to become leaders in their communities and become involved in making a difference for all parties.
With the help of a strategic planning company whose founder was also a member of the Farmer's Union, they came up with FUE. The premise is simple: One couple from the five leading Farmer's Union states would be trained for a year at various gatherings and events throughout the nation and then asked to take up the mantel on their own and use that knowledge to make a difference on the local level. This is the sixth year of the leadership training and Andy and I are the sixth Wisconsin couple to take the reins in learning about ourselves, our family, community, and country. One of the first Wisconsin couples to go through training became the president of the Wisconsin Farmer's Union in his first year following his time with FUE. This is not usual but shows the sort of people that are attracted to this venture. The Farmer's Union Industries spends a substantial amount of money on each couple each year. Andy and I are here completely free of charge. We are completely thankful for the generosity of the organizations behind our retreat here and don't take the time lightly.
Last summer I mentioned this organization, as it was the reason we drove to North and South Dakota. This weekend is the second installment of training. It purposely coincides with the Minnesota Farmer's Union Annual Conference, held in this same Ramada Hotel. Today, we will have a day-long meeting with just the other four couples and a keynote speaker, along with our guide, Mr. Danielson, who has been leading the FUE couples since the inception (and which he helped envision via his company).
Andy has finished grooming and looks very handsome for our group breakfast. The skyline is a faded salmon-grey and I-94 is steadily picking up. Andy and I are excited for the day ahead in which we'll examine a personality profile we filled out online last week. It will help us understand others' personalities and the best way to approach them in conversation and as leaders.
We thank our friends the Gerhkings who lovingly took our three littles ones into their fold for two days. Tonight, Elly, Ethan and Liam will move "homes" to Grandma Judy's and Grandpa Dave's house to stay until we come for them Sunday afternoon. We are very blessed to have the sort of family support network that enables us to leave for this many days completely free of worry for our precious babes.
Friday was a good long day of learning about each other's personality styles through a questionnaire we all filled out called DiSC. You may be familiar with the program. You basically answer a bunch of questions about how you'd react in various situations at home and at work and then they are compared against the general population to see what sort of personality you lean towards.
Andy is quite familiar with this sort of personality profile as he has been on a years-long search to discover how he "ticks" and how to go about daily life with that knowledge.
Each letter stands for a personality type.
D = Dominant (Direct, results oriented, Firm, strong-willed, Forceful)
i = Influence (Outgoing, enthusiastic, optimistic, high spirited, lively)
S = Steadiness (Even-tempered, accommodating, patient, humble, tactful)
C = Conscientious (analytical, reserved, precise, private, systematic)
Nearly all the time, people test with two of the traits being part of their personality. For example, Andy tested as an iD. He was marked by Influence and Dominant characteristics. I was categorized as a CS, which is a person who craves routine, reliability and security. Learning these things about ourselves wasn't necessarily a surprise, but learning how to relate to each other was an answer to a specific prayer I had not one week ago. I want to support Andy more in his decisions and ideas, but given my personality, changes are scary and stressful. So I was able to learn how to relate to him on a level he understands and in turn, he became more sensitive to my needs as both a woman and a person who needs to feel safe.
We spent the whole day as a group talking about the different styles and how they generally relate to one another; how they view different personality types and how to mitigate conflicts by just stepping into each other's mindsets. I was able to pin point a couple of my immediate family members right away and began thinking of ways in which I can increase effective communication with them. After we exhausted our brains on acronyms and tendencies, we had a short break and then we gathered as a group to go out for the night. On deck? Dinner theatre!
I have never been to a dinner theatre, so as the 15 passenger van hauled us west of the Cities to Chanhassen, I just watched the sun set and listened to the small talk going on amongst the couples.
We arrived after dark to an unassuming building amongst strip malls and stores. We exited the van and entered a whole different era. The building was decked in dark wood and fireplaces and large stone walls. There were Christmas trees fully decorated and boughs of evergreens adorning every doorway and tree-trunk post. It was warm, magical and totally inviting.
Andy and I were immediately impressed. We headed to the lounge to wait for our turn to go to the theatre. Low ceilings, leather chairs on casters and intimate conversations gave the impression of an exclusive supper club. Soon we were asked to get in line for our dinner seats. As we handed the tickets to the hostess, we were escorted to the center of the great room and just took in all the wonder.
Before us were tables and chairs able to seat as many as 600, tucked in here and there and covering at least four different levels. To our left was a large stage, protruding into the audience with a great sweeping curve. We settled in with two other couples and waited for our meal, still taking in the atmosphere. After we ordered and got our food, the bustle of the waitstaff and hustle of the multitude of people around us gave plenty of visual stimulation while we digested. Soon, the lights dimmed and the the MC announced our show for the night (which we already knew): "Bye Bye Birdie."
We settled in for a fantastic show of dancing, singing and orchestral performance right before our eyes. It was just amazing. I've been to plays before, but everything about this was just special. We were so grateful for the experience and acknowledged that it was something we could rarely have afforded in our own lives. What a special night out!
The musical ended about 10:30pm and we hopped in our van to ride back home, about 40 minutes. I was asleep on Andy long before that.
Saturday morning we began the Minnesota Farmer's Union Annual Convention. We spent the day in and out of policy sessions and listening to annual reports from various leaders and guest speakers. It was very informative and I could see how the stuff would be even more important when/if we attend our own Wisconsin State Convention in January. It largely depends on the goodwill of our babysitters and the temperament of our new baby!
That evening, there was a fundraising dinner, which seem to be attended by just about every farmer there! The entire convention hall was filled and they had to open another room to fit the last 40 people in! The food was all locally produced and very tasty. The speaker was Minnesota State Senator Al Franken and he gave a nice speech about the farmer's he'd met in the last year and what farming means in Washington.
Next morning, we got up about 7am and rushed down to breakfast thinking that we were missing something. Turns out, we were well ahead of everyone else in our group and got to have a leisurely 1.5 hour breakfast while we waited for the conference to begin again. Andy and I were able to talk with Harley and his wife more about life goals and direction and it was incredibly encouraging for Andy to figure out a direction for our family and him. (me too!).
We listened to a few more updates in the conference and then decided to pack up about 9:30am. We had babies to see and a mother with a birthday, so we were excused a few hours early for the drive home. Before 2:30pm, we were in Omro and reunited with the little ones. It was nice to spend the day at my parents' house before finally ending the trip at home, later that night. Everyone was well and only a few items were missing from the kids' clothing bags. All in all, a good trip!
In mid-December, I gave an update on the comings and goings surrounding the holidays:
I am grounded today by my pregnant body and decided to put in something educational for the kids on TV and kick my feet up and write. It's been a long time since I wrote because we once again rearranged our schedule to allow Andy more time to work during the day. In return, I spend more time with the kids exclusively and running errands or visiting friends with kids. As well, I have been working several hours at my mother's house sewing a winter peacoat for Elly for Christmas. The task is beyond my limited sewing skills and uses faux sherpa material which has been more difficult to cut and sew than normal cotton fabrics. However, with my mom's guidance here and there and a bit of reading and re-reading the directions, we are making progress. In the end, it will definitely look homemade, but it will be a wonderful expression of love every time Elly wears the jacket some place special. [it actually turned out beautiful!]
My downtime today is due to being in the final month of pregnancy and the general aches and pains that go with a larger than life body at the end of its stretchiness. However, today I have some unusual stabbing pains in my lower pelvic region that I don't recall experiencing before. Thankfully, I have a prenatal appointment this very afternoon, which will allow me to ask the midwife if she knows what's happening.
Our Thanksgiving this year was highly unusual. We planned to meet up with my parents and brother's family in Omro, but the morning of the big day, we got a call that my Dad was really sick with a cold and that the celebration was to be moved to the family farm (where my brother lives). However, they weren't feeling the best either and no one was sure the day should even happen. Given that each of the three families were to make part of the total feast, we postponed our Thanksgiving until Friday.
On Friday morning, no one was better. In fact, they were worse. So we decided to meet briefly at my parents to exchange the food we had all made so that each family could have an individual Thanksgiving at home. We divided up all the dishes into thirds and went our separate ways. Andy's family had also been unavailable with Maddie receiving more cancer treatment in the hospital and the grandparents working all weekend.
We never did have a big family gathering. My father was diagnosed with bronchitis and just this week has been able to get out and about and start catching up with chores and such! We have been relatively healthy and thankful for it! Thanksgiving weekend we decorated the house for Christmas and it was quite fun. As in years past, we let the kids decorate it with minimal interventions from the parents. This was Liam's first year decorating as last Christmas we did not have a tree (living in a friend's house). Before I even had the chance to show him what to do, he had hung no less than three ornaments all by himself! I guess watching Elly and Ethan, or just intuition led him to do it on his own.
In early December, we went to the annual Experimental Aircraft Association’s Christmas in the Air event, which was a lot of fun for our family, for free! I wrote a bit about it here:
Last evening we were grabbed the kids and headed over to the EAA Airventure Museum here in Oshkosh. They were entertaining their annual Christmas in the Air event, which happens to be free for the community. Christmas lights and trees, cookies, beverages and a myriad of performances happening all over the huge complex were the main draw for folks. We went last year and saw all the sights and watched the performances and then waited in line to meet Santa who'd flew in on a helicopter. This year we saw him land just outside the main building to a large crowd, dancers and music. But by the time he entered the building, our boys had worn out their sugar cookies and napless afternoon and were downright belligerent. There would be no Santa lap this year. Even though the night ended on a rather rough note, we did have a good time and hope to bring them back soon when there are no crowds and we can really see the museum for what it's worth. Ethan so loves airplanes and after last night, it appears Liam might as well.
As we draw upon the final two weeks before the Day of Christmas, our days will be filled with schooling, baking, creating, wrapping, visiting, hosting, and sewing (the last one me, not so much anyone else). Then we (ideally) have two weeks before Baby arrives. No name yet. No worries. It will come when it's right. For now, the little guy keeps me on my toes already! Or, in the case of today, on my rear.
At the end of December, I gave my annual year end wrap up:
I suppose I better get this blog in while the gettin' is good! As I write this a mere two days before the turn of 2013, I am in the early stages of labor with our fourth baby.
Over the last two days, several definite "baby coming" signs have been showing themselves and while my official due date is the 5th of January, we all know that babies come when they are good and ready. Liam was eleven days early and Ethan was five days "late." Only Elly came exactly on the day they said she would which, if you know Elly at all, makes perfect sense!
Early this morning I was awakened by heavier than normal Braxton Hicks every half hour or so. Because they were waking me up, I knew them to be more like early labor. Throughout the course of the day the contractions chilled out but never completely went away. As this evening begins, I anticipate the contractions to ramp up again through the night. We have childcare lined up with my mom (who spent the afternoon with us in hopes of baby, but went home just before supper), and our friend Malissa lined up to accompany us in the delivery room as a support to Andy and myself.
My bags are packed, the car seat is resurrected from the basement and the bassinet is all set up. For Christmas, Andy's mother Julia made baby a quilt, which will travel with us to the hospital. My mom bought us a new outfit, which will be his going home clothes. We are pretty much set. Just waiting for the child to make his appearance.
We are still undecided on a name. Andy is very fond of one iteration that I just can't seem to get behind. While I am not sure what is holding me from giving the green light, part of me just wants to be decided and go with it. And then there's always the possibility that the ultrasound was wrong and we've got a little girl about to make her debut! :-)
This year we had a lot of changes. The last two years I've been amazed at how much we've gone through and this year was a little milder but no less eventful. At the start of 2012, we were living in a friend of a friend's house in the basement, with most of our belongings waiting patiently for us in a storage unit across town. Liam was about to turn one and Ethan about to be three. I revisited an interest in writing and sewing and began to get restless for a place of our own. Still employed by Gourmet Grassfed, Andy and the family enjoyed many days as a family unit working from home. As Spring began to trickle in, we finalized a search for a house to rent in Omro or Oshkosh. By the end of March, we had found a place with character and a large yard. We moved in in early April and relished a place of our own, even if it wasn't a country estate with land for chickens and cows.
We settled in and Andy tried several iterations of working from home before I took a job with Oshkosh Corporation as a temp employee in May. For about six weeks, he played SAHD while I worked long hours typesetting. I thoroughly enjoyed my time back in the workplace and the only thing holding me back was the morning sickness I began feeling about two weeks into the job. Yes, we were pregnant again and while it was not planned or even hoped for, we quickly accepted the new being inside me and prepared ourselves mentally for the major change in the coming winter.
After that job ended in late June, we got to go on a trip to the wild west of the Dakotas and take the kids on a good ol' fashioned family vacation. Upon returning home, we settled into life with a city garden and a super hot dry summer. There were farmer's markets to be at and playdates to be had. We explored our new town on bike and on foot and stroller and even stopped to eat ice cream while the cars went by once in a while. Summer seemed to fly by into Autumn which quickly revealed itself to be one big canning festival. We reorganized Gourmet Grassfed and placed all sales and marketing into Andy's hands while Ben took on all other responsibilities. New flavors were developed and labels needed to be designed, along with a website overhaul that is much anticipated to break in the coming month. I started Elly on her kindergarten year of homeschooling with some work in numbers, writing, reading and any sort of nature interest that caught her attention. The boys were just along for the ride and have been picking up all sorts of stuff because of it. In September I got to go to Pennsylvania for free to the Mother Earth News Fair. Because of the people I was riding with, had the incredible privilege to eat across the table from Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm. He shared an intimate story from his childhood with the group of about 20 that touched everyone deeply. It was so neat to listen to a person so well known and remember that he’s just human, too.
Late fall gave us respite and a low key Thanksgiving, building into the Christmas season. Now we are into early winter and we definitely had a white Christmas this year. Just yesterday it must have snowed another 10" on top of the pre-Christmas snowfall of a foot or more! If this is any indication of the winter we'll have, I'm really sorta thankful we don't have animals to care for this winter. Digging out a public sidewalk and your driveway is nothing compared to deep snow and animals to feed. Waterers to unfreeze. Feed to uncover and replenish. Bedding to change out daily. (do me a favor and thank your closest farmer today!)
And so with the close of the 2012 year, we look forward to what 2013 has to offer. A family of six, living in interim in the city, praying and hoping for a place in the country, doing their best to pay off their debts so that they may begin building their future once and for all.
As I close, I know the next time I write will be to share the story of Baby's entrance into this world and there will be photos of him to share with you all. As it is right now, I bid you farewell 2012. You haven't been too shabby to the Sells and for that we are grateful. A little less tumult in our lives is always appreciated (at least by me, a personality who craves stability and order!).
The next morning, our baby boy made his entrance into the world and kept me from writing for about a month. I recapped his birth and the rest of January here:
Finlay Dael Sell was born on December 31st, 2012 weighing in at 8lbs 1oz and 20" long. We were all surprised at his weight, given that no one thought I was even close to being due from my belly size. We were not surprised at his gender this time, quite unlike our boy Liam from two years ago. :-)
Andy and I headed to the hospital (no home birth this time; financially unviable) at around 2:30am on that Monday and our friend Malissa met us there to be a support to both Andy and I. After the initial round of heartbeat monitoring and questionnaires, I was able to labor in peace. We dimmed the lights and added music from the Prayer Room in Kansas City and Andy had brought candles to add softness to the room. Around 4am, I was in hard labor and asked to have a bath drawn. I have never labored in the luxury of the hottubs most delivery wards offer these days as I have back labor and that keeps me moving almost to the end. This time, though, we decided to try it, even though I was convinced I would have to hop out as soon as I was in.
Well, I was so very wrong...and so very thankful of that! As soon as my first foot hit that hot water, I was instantly relaxed and soothed into a meditative state of labor in which even the most strenuous of transition contractions left me with just a few moans of pain. Man, I wish I would have given this a try with the other labors! It wasn't long before I knew without being checked that I had to push. Since the hospital we were at does not allow water births, I knew I had to exit the water even though all I wanted to do was float blissfully into motherhood. Malissa and Andy helped me out and I headed to the bed. The room flooded with nurses, equipment and the midwife. I knew I had to push, but since I had not been checked to see if I was indeed fully dilated, I pushed only hesitantly at first. When the midwife was ready and waiting, I really began pushing and only then did my water break. Within 15 minutes, little Finlay made his debut and I had him cuddled in my arms, so tiny and warm and beautiful. It was 5am. Malissa left about a half hour later to go to work. She pulled an all nighter like us and didn't even bat an eye. We were so thankful to have her there as moral support and even some comic relief for Andy during the long parts of my labor.
Family and friends came to visit us that day and as the rest of the world rang in 2013, we cuddled down in a hospital room with a brand new human in our charge. Welcome to the planet, Finn!
The month of January has passed quickly only because I am usually not sure what day I'm actually in. On the 11th, our quirky personality Liam turned two years old. We held a party for him on the 12th with family and friends. He very adorably accepted his gifts and cake amidst the bustle of the get together. Liam is talking now and "sharp as a tack" according to his Grandpa Steve. He continually makes us laugh with his expressive face and ability to repeat phrases at just the right moment. He is amazingly compassionate for a two year old boy and seeks to make things right when he's been naughty. Often, a frustrated outburst that resulted in him hitting or biting will cause him to immediately recant with a diminutive hug and kiss. He melts anger in us in a way that the others never could. We began potty training him last week, but for some reason he has refused to accept it. We'll wait another month and try again. He definitely gets what's going on, but fails to see the independence in it.
Eleven days later, we celebrated my 32nd birthday, on the 22nd. I was blessed with several nice gifts from my family and a small get together with my in-laws at the end of the week. My mom even handmade me a table runner and some cloth napkins with some fabric that I had found at a rummage sale. It's funny because she totally stole it from me one time in late fall and I looked for it several times during the Christmas season because I had an idea that I wanted to sew a gift for someone with that fabric. As I apparently had "lost" it, I gave up on the gift idea. Turns out I never had time to sew it anyway so when Mom presented my birthday gift, I laughed out loud. It all worked out for the best!
Just after that, Andy and I spent the weekend in Eau Claire attending the Wisconsin Farmer's Union annual conference. I was asked to take photos in exchange for our admission fees, which helped us afford to be there at all. We took young Finn and had the kids stay with family for two days. It was a long Saturday in which I had a bit of a fever and my camera battery nearly died, but Andy got to attend most of the sessions and take part in the important policy discussion.
I got a few neat shots of the day and the break out sessions throughout the hotel. The evening dinner had a local author as keynote speaker and several awards were handed out to the farmer's union youth (they put a lot of effort into young people education). The keynote was Michael Perry, author of Coop and Truck: A Love Story, amongst others. He is a great humorist and I was already a fan of his writing. I brought my copy of Coop for him to sign, but it didn't work out. Mr. Perry did however admire Finlay when Andy had him out in the hallway just before he and his band played for the late night crowd.
Everything was to pick up again on Sunday, but due to an impending ice storm, the convention was wrapped up by mid morning and Andy and I headed back to his folks' house several hours early. Our boys had been with the Sells and we would pick them up there. Elly stayed with both her cousins in Omro and my parents for the weekend, so that no one family would be too overwhelmed by kiddoes.
As we entered February, there were a few things that I wanted to talk about but had to wait until things got fleshed out a little more. Jonathan Foreman, lead writer and singer for the band Switchfoot has a line in one of his songs that rings with me this past month: "Life begins at the intersections." We have many choices ahead of us as a family.
2013, unlike 2012, is already shaping up to be a season of opportunity and fruition. Whereas Andy and I have been in a period of waiting, learning and proving ourselves for a couple of long years, now it seems that we may have come through that time and are seeing doors open. Doors that once were closed and doors that were only just recently unattainable. I know that's a lot of vague jargon to many of you, but I feel compelled to keep it that way until we know more. In the meantime, we huddle down in this cold Wisconsin winter, sip our hot coffee and pray for God's continued guidance in our lives.
Since I wrote that last post, our very own Ethan turned 4 years old in the middle of February. How could it be that when we started blogging for Grit, I was just barely pregnant with this little being and now he is nearing school age? We love the little scamp as he daily brings us the most challenges and laughs of our four children. Finlay remains to be seen, of course!
And so, now that you are caught up on our lives thus far, I will be able to tell you about those “intersections” in a following blog. However, Andy and I leave again on another FUE adventure in just a day: We are flying with Finn to Massachusetts for the National Farmers Union Convention to be held in Springfield. We spend four days away from our other babies who will be in the loving homes of two different friends of ours. It will be interesting to see how they fare without us but I think they’ll be ok as long as they are together. Meanwhile, Andy, Finn and I will take in the continued learning that awaits us in MA. Hopefully I’ll be able to write about that experience as it happens, but no promises! Take care and I’ll chat at ya soon.