A little over a year has passed since we pulled a reverse Brigham Young, said goodbye to the salt lake valley, ascended up parleys canyon, and didn’t stop until we hit Omaha, not far from where the pioneers spent the winter of 1846. And like good ‘ol Brigham said when he gazed upon his new home, I too can say “this is the place” even as I miss my Utah home dearly. The Mormons were chased out of Illinois by mobs with pitchforks so I imagine they didn’t miss their previous home in the same way. I am going to spend some words reflecting on our first year back in Flyover Country. Join me if COVID isolation has you longing for some very indirect social interaction.
Our last morning in Salt Lake City we attended service at Zion Lutheran ELCA—our church home for the better part of three years. Afterward when we got in the car to start our drive, Siri informed me it would be 10 minutes to get home. With a knot in my throat I told the phone—which of course wasn’t listening—“I’m not going home, Siri.” Indeed, the home Siri referred to, the one a couple 20-somethings excitedly bought in 2012, the one that had valiantly served as base camp for so many awesome adventures, not the least of which was bringing newborn Grant, Cade, and Harper home to, now stood completely empty awaiting its new owners. Our “home” was now nomadic—here in the loaded car with us, and in the back of an 18 wheeler headed east.
Last photo at our Salt Lake City house
Our first stop was Yankton where we spent the week of thanksgiving at Tara’s parents’ house. Driving out to spend a holiday in South Dakota was a normal thing to do. For me, it was not until we drove down to my parents’ house in Papillion, where we would be living while we found a house, that the full gravity of the move set in. Even medicated sleep became a struggle. I started my new job the day after arriving and making a good first impression while sleep deprived and living out of a suitcase was a struggle. The kids also went through adjustment issues and had terrible tempers. Going anywhere in the car almost always led to everyone hating each other before we had even pulled out of the driveway.
With the help of Tara’s realtor cousin Ryan, we found a new construction 2-story in Ashland that we fell in love with. But when we went to make an offer, we learned there had been a miscommunication with the seller. That house was already sold, but the same floor plan was going in down the street and would be ready in April. Four months isn’t that long to wait for a house we really want and we get to customize we thought. Little did we know a pandemic would sweep through and push it out until nearly July.
Tara enrolled the boys in preschool in Ashland almost immediately. They had a Christmas program on a Sunday. It is a 30 minute drive from my parents’ house and we left with what we thought was plenty of time, but it was snowing that day and there was a terrible accident on I-80 that caused us to sit in traffic until long after the program had started. The boys were totally bummed so to soften the blow and somewhat justify all the car time, we went for milkshakes at McDonalds in Gretna.
The next day Tara took the kids to the grocery store. When they got there, the boys told her there was something in Grant’s milkshake cup which had been left in his cupholder. The something was a dead mouse which had evidently taken up residence in our car and had been living a rich gluttonous life on discarded morsels of delicious food for some time before drowning in the milkshake. Tara and I left the kids with my parents that night and “enjoyed some quality time together” at the self serve car wash spending about $10 in quarters vacuuming every nook and cranny. We found the main nest in the glove box and a food reserve in the storage compartment in the back of the car where whole Cheetos and the like had been retrieved from the kids’ seats and stowed there. It all seemed to be the work of one mouse. Evidently this issue is pretty common for those that park outside but we had always assumed a car was sealed enough to prevent small rodent intrusion. Not so. When it was all done, we put mint packets in every compartment and I’m pleased to say we never had another mouse issue.
For Harper’s birthday in early February we got an Airbnb in Omaha with plans to host Tara’s parents and brother’s family for a long weekend. Ironically, given what was to come in March, the flu messed up the whole event. Bryce got it causing them to cancel their trip. Cade developed symptoms as we arrived at the rental house. Tara’s parents still made the trip down, but Cindy would end up catching it from Cade. Despite it all, our time in that big old house was a highlight of the winter for us. We Door Dashed some really good food, went to the zoo and botanical garden, and enjoyed some really quality time together both as a nuclear family and with our extended families.
COVID-19 came along in March like a cruel joke. 4 adults and 3 kids in a 3 bedroom house and we were all of a sudden supposed to have a plan for how we would all work from home and a plan for quarantine. While it seemed irresponsible at the time, none of us actually changed to working from home except for Tara who had been doing it the whole time. I think this greatly helped with sanity. Worse than all that was learning that our move in date was shifting from April 30th to TBD.
But we found some fun ways to pass the time. We got a membership at the zoo immediately upon moving back and made full use of it before the shutdown in March. We also got a Fontenelle Forest membership which served us well throughout the various stages of lockdown. No matter how stressful things got, the forest always provided the calm that we needed. We dug the old tag-along bike out of my parents’ crawl space that Garin rode as a child and after some dusting and lubrication, found it road-worthy. I took the boys on many rides including some of my old haunts: the 5 mile gravel loop to Richfield and Council Bluffs to Mineola on the Wabash. My parents joined us on many rides, and Garin and Emma did as well for a ride on the Mopac. For that ride we brought along a camp stove and griddle in the car and feasted on a brunch of fried eggs, spam, and smoothies in the Elmwood park after the ride. It was everything I hoped it would be. Personally, I was lacking the motivation to do the necessary preparation but everyone came through in a big way to pull it off. Never underestimate the industriousness of a Newcomb picnic.
Grant on a family path ride
In the spring—a large detail I almost forgot to add because it feels like they’ve been doing it for longer—both boys mastered two wheel cycling after some one-on-one practice at our storage unit. They can now handle a 6 mile path ride, but their preference by far is off road. After pump tracks, their favorite place to ride is the trails right here in Ashland. There is virtually no elevation gain which is perfect for them and the trail features keep them engaged. Harper shreds on her balance bike and desperately wants a pedal bike to keep up with her brothers.
We moved into our house on June 22nd, three months after our original close date. My parents had been infinitely gracious throughout the entire ordeal, putting up with their home being a constant mess and taking the kids on numerous occasions while we took some time for ourselves. But the stress of being in transition and not having our own space for that long put a strain on our marriage like I have never known. But we made it through and the house and Ashland are everything we hoped it would be. We have since filled our time with nesting projects. In the warmer months we put in 4 tons of landscaping rocks, a truckload of mulch, and planted 7 trees. Now the projects have moved indoors and involve hanging pictures and installing storage solutions for all our stuff. It is tremendously gratifying work. It is what I look forward to doing on the weekend which weirds me out because historically it has always been adventuring that I yearn for.
In August we took vacation in Steamboat Springs for a week making it the longest trip we have ever taken with just us and the kids. We had a slight concern that the elevation would be hard on us after living at 1000ft for nearly a year, but the mountains welcomed us back with open arms. It was a week of riding bikes–particularly the pump track at the local bike park, swimming, and appreciating the miraculous realization that the number of things we can’t do with the kids is rapidly shrinking.
Pump Track Cruisin’
After a lot of back and forth given how close their birthday is to the cutoff, we started the boys in kindergarten. Thankfully the COVID cases at the school have been minimal and they have been able to attend in person classes the whole time. Both boys are doing very well and like school a lot. Harper wishes she could go to school too but also enjoys having free reign of all the toys while her brothers are gone. She and Tara have a weekly library date for which Tara rides her bike with Harper in the child seat.
At the beginning of September I left the rest of the family home and joined my parents, brothers, and SIL in Vail to knock the final 2 (out of 5) fourteeners off my father’s bucket list. After a day and a half of attempted acclimation we headed up to 12000 ft to hike Mts Democrat, Lincoln, and Cameron. I quickly discovered that these are the elevations where stuff starts to matter. I have hiked above 12000 ft before but it has been many years. I forgot my ibuprofen and my head was pounding for most of the hike. But it was so good to be able to do this with my dad and brothers. The last peak we all did together I believe was Mt Newcomb in 2006.
Proving Nebraska camping isn’t half bad
It was a rough year for us as it was for everyone, but it was also a year of progress and we are very happy with how it turned out. It has been wonderful being closer to family and being able to take weekend trips up to Yankton which we have been doing about every other month. We will always miss Utah and the friends we made there. However, transportation has improved significantly since 1847 and we are looking forward to many trips back to our old stomping grounds once this virus has been handled.
Thanksgiving just the 5 of us