Thursday, October 2, 2014

Football, Fairs, and Freewheeling

Under the guise of exposing Elsa to new experiences, we have been dragging taking her along on some recent adventures. It's just a coincidence that these activities include a number of our favorite things, such as football, elephant ears, and biking.

Fortunately, we live close enough to bicycle to the Liberty Bowl, the stadium where the University of Memphis Tigers play football, so we quickly--and graciously--accepted tickets from one of Jon's co-workers for the first home game of the season. We thought this would be the perfect scenario for Elsa's first (live) football game: not far from home, not too crowded, and not guilt-inducing if we needed to leave early (no way would we leave a Nebraska or Washington game before the end).

While our seats were fantastic...

...the weather was not, and we got a little soggy.

Luckily, it wasn't cold, and the Tigers were destroying their opponent, so our spirits weren't dampened (pun intended). We're not quite sure if or how much Elsa enjoyed the game (or rather the half we stayed for since it was a night game), but she seemed to be really taking it all in. Upon reflection, we realized what a weird thing football is if you know nothing about the game. She'll learn quickly, though, if we have anything to do with it.

Elsa's next first was the Delta Fair. So many sights, sounds, and smells--talk about sensory overload. In just a few short hours, we saw monkeys riding on dogs, pigs racing around a track, and lots of goats in a petting zoo.

Elsa was content with looking at the animals; however, she wanted nothing to do with actually touching them. Hence, the disasterous pony ride (that wasn't):

The kid running the pony rides actually gave us our money back because he felt bad. Elsa's tears didn't last, though, especially once we let her try some lemonade and elephant ear.

There were tears associated with Elsa's next adventure, but not how one might think. Elsa has gone riding with, or rather behind, us a number of times in a bike trailer, which she has enjoyed. However, Jon recently upped the ante by getting a new seat for Elsa that fits on the front of the bike:

From the first ride, Elsa has absolutely loved it. Now she can see everything and is probably safer since Jon can see her. The crying occurred only when it was time to get out; she wanted to ride again. In fact, just this morning as Jon was getting ready to leave for work, she toddled over in her footie pajamas and handed Jon his helmet before putting on her own. Time to ride!

We are fortunate that Elsa is generally agreeable and goes along with most of our whims. Onto the next adventure! 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Educators Bed & Breakfast

Someday when we retire, Jon and I have a dream of opening our own brewery/bed & breakfast. Jon would brew the beer, of course, and serve as chief tour guide, while I would get to play hostess. Since that is many, many, many years away, we've been content to practice our hosting skills through our membership in the Educators Travel Network.

As a part of this network, we have made our home available for travelers to spend a night or two, and we have the opportunity to stay with folks across the country for an extremely affordable rate. Kind of like Airbnb, but for educators. So far, we've only used the service for our trip to New Orleans a couple of years ago, but we have had the opportunity to host and meet some very friendly, very interesting people.

I could blather on about our guests and our experiences, but instead, I will share a much more polished account written--in our upstairs bedroom--by one of our new friends. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Back to the Future

The spring of 2005 was a turning point in our lives. If our story was a novel or a movie (admittedly, I often think of it that way), that season would definitely be the climax, or the "point of no return," which is how I have taught that literary term in the past. I actually have aspirations of doing some serious writing about what I consider to be both the best and worst period of my life, so for the purposes of this post, I won't go into too much detail. But I digress.

Jon and I met and fell in love during that magical time in Bamberg, but we also met and fell in love with some people we now consider lifelong friends. It's hard to live with six other women and not bond quickly, and I'm sure Jon would say the same about the close ties that form between those serving in the military together. We're all scattered across the country--and world--now, but I think we've done a good job of keeping in touch. Our latest adventure is proof of that fact.

Instead of merely talking about how awesome it would be, we actually planned and took a trip to Washington DC to visit our dear friends, who will now be referred to as our doppelgängers. When this couple also met and fell in love in Bamberg, she was a high school English teacher from Missouri, and he was an Army officer. Sound familiar? The Doppelgängers have always been a few steps ahead of us, though, actually admitting they were a couple way before we were ready to do so, and consequently blazing the trail with their engagement and marriage. They've even lapped us in the kid department.

At any rate, we've remained close through the years and were very excited to spend four glorious days with the Doppelgänger family. First we had to get there, however. Delta has loosened its death-grip on the airport in Memphis somewhat, so we were able to snag a direct flight to DC via Southwest. Check-in was uneventful, but we were a little disheartened to learn that due to weather conditions on the east coast, we would be delayed. For better or for worse, our delay took place mid-air, as we were held in a holding pattern, not once but twice.

This would have been a mild annoyance to our old selves, who would have taken the opportunity to read a few more pages in our respective books. For our current parent selves, flying around in circles required extra manuevers in the art of "baby wrangling." We pulled out Elsa's toys, pumped her full of snacks, and even let her read (or eat, whatever) the Sky Mall catalog. Finally I was able to nurse her to sleep at the end of the flight. In all honesty, she did fairly well. She certainly wasn't the loudest kid on the plane. If you ask Jon, however, he would tell you that she did horribly. His expectations were much too high. Did he really think she would sleep the whole time like she did when she was a little baby?

Needless to say, we arrived at our destination later than expected. We immediately put Elsa to bed and headed that way ourselves. We were greeted bright and early the next morning by the controlled chaos of two little boys and a dog...and it was great. I think Elsa was initially taken aback, but it didn't take her too long to join in the ruckus.

We slipped right into the household routine, and I, for one, was taking mental notes. Since we're a few years behind the Doppelgängers, I've always looked up to them as an example. I learned a lot from watching them parent and even gained some reassurance that we maybe, sort of, kind of know what we're doing.

Mesmerized at the National Zoo
Our time in DC was a very kid-centric affair. Fortunately, the kids all maintained similar sleeping and eating schedules. Pretty good considering we were dealing with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a one-year-old. We took advantage of some of the great (free) things to do in the city, like the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and the National Zoo, but we had just as much fun hanging around the house, reading books, playing games, telling JOKES! (when you're four, you have to let other people know when you're telling a joke because it's not always obvious), and going on "potty seat rides."
Yes, that is my child being carried around on a toilet seat
Naptimes and the evenings after the kids were put to bed were the perfect opportunities for us to reminisce with the Doppelgängers while watching the World Cup or playing board games/cards. So, maybe it wasn't like the old days of staying out too late at a brewery, but it was still pretty fantastic.

There were many highlights from the weekend, but one of my favorites was at church on Sunday. I had one of those moments where you kind of mentally step back and observe what is occurring around you. It was truly a beautiful scene, and I know God was infinitely happy with what He saw. The six (and a half) of us had taken up an entire pew, which was scattered with books and crayons and Cheerios. All the kids were so comfortable with us and with each other, that at one point Mr. Doppelgänger was reading to his boys while Elsa sat on Mrs. Doppelgänger's lap and then minutes later, Jon and I had all three kids--who were eating eating each other's snacks--with us. It was as if we were performing a graceful dance, interacting so naturally and so fluidly with one another. It made my heart glad to both witness and be a part of it.

Sadly our trip came to an end far too quickly. It was wonderful to remember good old times and to also get a glimpse into our future. Watching the kids play together was just as incredible as we thought it would be. We are already talking about our next reunion, and I can't wait. Doppelgängers, can we come back?


Monday, June 2, 2014

Elsa is ONE!

We survived.

That is the most profound thing I can say after reflecting upon Elsa's first birthday. Everything else seems trite. "The year has flown by (except when it hasn't)." "She is growing up so fast." "Our lives are now (more) complete."

It makes sense that my feelings about parenthood are cliché. Nothing we are thinking or experiencing is new...yet it seems like we are the first people in the world to go through it. Parenting is a universal experience, but also a very unique one.

I suppose it is fitting that I start off Elsa's birthday post by talking about me. First of all, Elsa doesn't have a clue what birthdays are yet and secondly, her birthday is a special day in my life, too. I'm only halfway joking when I say we survived. We literally have kept another human being alive for an entire year, no small feat. On a more figurative level, we have survived a sometimes bumpy year of getting acquainted with the newest member of our family. Thank goodness Elsa is new at this too because we still don't have a clue what we are doing.

One thing I am sure of, however, is that birthdays are important and are meant to be celebrated. I've been told that my family makes a big deal out of birthdays. So be it, I say. It's not so much the presents--although to be fair, I'm sure at some point in my life, it was the presents--but rather feeling special on a day devoted especially to the glorious occasion of one's birth.

I know Elsa was too little to understand, but I still wanted to make her feel special. Jon was going to be out of town on "the best day of the year" (May 10th) so we scheduled her birthday party for later in the month, but I didn't want us to be sitting at home twiddling our thumbs. Instead, we packed our bags--and the giant sheep--and headed for the Midwest. 

On May 10th, Elsa woke up in her special birthday jammies at my grandma's house. We sang "Happy Birthday" to her at least 20 times: when she had a breakfast of Grandma's rolls; when she opened the requisite birthday socks; when the clock read 8:46am, the exact time she was born. After a birthday bath, we had a photo shoot with the infamous sheep and then later in the day, we took some very special four-generation pictures with my grandma, my mom, Elsa, and me. My great-aunt and -uncle came to visit, allowing Elsa to show off her new walking skills, and in the evening after church, a few of my cousins were there to sing "Happy Birthday" one more time so Elsa could blow out the candle (I helped) on the cookie cake my mom made.
Happy (belated) Birthday, Elsa!
Characteristic of our little family, we naturally had more than one celebration. Each time we saw another family member in Kansas City, we celebrated, and then when we returned to Memphis, there were gifts waiting from Washington family. The culmination of all this celebrating occurred over Memorial Day weekend at the official birthday party.

I've been around long enough to know that first birthday parties are really for the adults, so we planned accordingly (honestly, I feel bad for the few kids that were there because it was probably pretty boring). It was a low-key affair at our house, with cupcakes, fruit, and ice cream sandwiches. Oh, and beer. Like I said, for the adults. It was fun to socialize with family (so thankful for my mom and brother who made the trip), friends, and neighbors, but the highlight of the party was the cake.

We fully expected Elsa to dive in and devour her cake. She really seemed more unsure than anything else. In retrospect, it was probably a bit disconcerting to have a bunch of giant people staring and singing at you after they put this sticky, colorful thing in front of you and then set it on fire. I'm not really sure if she actually ate any of the cake, but she did manage to get frosting all over the place, so we got the pictures we were hoping for. It's probably good that she preferred the blueberries we gave her to eat instead.

What is this stuff?
It was important to be able to commemorate such a momentous year. I hope Elsa felt special, and I hope she likes birthdays, because May 10th is going to be a big deal for our family every year.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Car-Free Weekend

Location, location, location. That is really the only way Elsa and I have managed to successfully experience our first car-free weekend.

About a year and a half ago, Jon and I finally transitioned to a one-car household. We were living downtown at the time and Jon had a lengthy six-block commute to work while I often rode my bike the one mile to the community college. Even if I had errands that took me a bit farther from home, there was almost always one car parked in the garage at all times.

So, in December 2012, we donated my beloved 2000 Cavalier and traded in Jon's car...for a hybrid, naturally. While the Ford C-Max doesn't get the gas mileage it promised, we are very pleased. Sharing a car has also been very pleasing. Jon commutes to work by bicycle, so I have the car during the day when I need it. We have even figured out the sweet spot for the driver's seat, so the only thing we ever have to adjust are the mirrors (and sometimes the radio station).

However, once a month, Jon needs the car in order to get to his duty station for his drill weekends with the Reserves. This predicament leaves us with three options: a) Elsa and I get up super-early and drop him off, b) Jon rents a car, or c) Jon takes the car leaving Elsa and I car-free. We've done all three for various reasons, but I think the one we'll rely on the most is option C.

We've been without a car for a random day here and there, and it hasn't been too big of a deal to just stay home. However, the prospect of an entire weekend stuck at home left me with a feeling of cabin-fever, so I started to plan.

One of the reasons we moved to our house is its proximity to work and play. Living downtown spoiled us by allowing us to be so close to the things we wanted and needed to do, and thankfully, I can say that we haven't sacrificed that by moving a few miles away.

Now that Elsa is sturdier, she is a good passenger in our bike trailer/jogging stroller. That and another more compact stroller became our main modes of transportation on our car-free weekend. On Friday, we were able to keep up our routine trip to the grocery store, which is a short 1.25 miles away. I got a jog in, and while the jogging stroller is quite spacious, knowing that I had to push it back home forced me to stick to my grocery list.

Our outing of the day on Saturday was a short walk to a restaurant and business district known as Overton Square for a crawfish festival. Elsa tried her first "crawdad," and I am pleased to say that she enjoyed it...even if I probably shouldn't have given her shellfish. On Sunday, we wanted to go to church for Palm Sunday. This was the trickiest venture as neither of our churches (we attend both a Catholic church and a Lutheran one) are within walking distance any longer. So, we used this challenge as an excuse to attend Memphis's cathedral.

It may not sound like much, but we had a successful car-free weekend. We were inspired by the city of Memphis's challenge of a car-free month. While that duration is currently a bit out of our reach, it was freeing to know we didn't have to depend on a car to get around.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Seahawks Super Bowl Soirée...Sponsored by Crock Pot

Go Seahawks!

Thanks, Auntie, for Elsa's spirited outfit!
Since my Chiefs self-destructed in the first round of the play-offs, I wholeheartedly threw my support behind the Seahawks. Easy to do because a) being from Seattle, Jon is a huge Seahawks fan, and b) when given the chance, I will always cheer against the Broncos.

Once Seattle officially made it to the Super Bowl, we decided to host a party. We optimistically thought it would also be a good opportunity to show off the new house. It was actually good motivation to get some work done, resulting in several late nights spent painting and organizing. Poor Jon was a zombie at work all week...but that was probably due to the fact that since I bought a different type of coffee (the grocery store was out of his favorite), he inadvertently drank decaf for days.

Miraculously, when it was time for the big game, we were ready. We certainly didn't have all the painting or projects done, but the house was (mostly) clean and chili was made. Due to the number of people we were expecting, we made a triple batch, prompting the need for an extra crock pot. Add in the spinach dip (served with blue chips to keep with the blue-green theme, of course) I made in a different crock pot, we had three outlets occupied.

Guests bearing delicious food started arriving as kick-off approached, and it quickly became apparent that we would need an extension cord. All told, we had six crock pots going, full of all that yummy stuff you only get to eat at parties. Needless to say, no one left hungry.

We were delighted to discover that everyone fit in our living room, including our giant rented TV. It was nice to not have to squint to see the score; I'm glad we'll still have it through the Olympics. We had a lovely time surrounded by friends, made all the sweeter by the outcome of the game. Super Bowl Sunday was a rousing success!

Airplane Philosophy*

If traveling with someone who needs assistance, please secure your own oxygen mask before helping others.

I had always thought this part of the airline safety instructions was sort of selfish. Why wouldn't you help someone else first?

Then I became a parent, and it all became crystal clear. If I'm not taking care of myself, I can't possibly take care of Elsa. This probably seems obvious to anyone who is a parent, but it was a revelation to me, the same way the "quarterback slide" finally makes sense.

I used to admonish quarterbacks as being wusses for sliding instead of taking a hit. But really, they would be doing their team a disservice by being knocked out a game for an extra couple of yards. Others depend on them to lead, so if they get injured, they are hurting the entire team. So really, sliding to avoid getting hit instead of going for a first down is an unselfish act.

The same can be said for mothers. We laugh at the saying, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," but it's true. Those moments spent going for a jog, having lunch with a friend, or even writing a blog post are good for my soul and make me a better mother because I then have the energy to focus on Elsa rather than thinking of all the other "things" I have (or admittedly want) to be doing. Plus, I like to think that I'm setting a good example for my daughter of how to lead a balanced life.

Lest you think I have it all together, I most certainly do not. Even though Elsa is nearly nine months old, I still forget that I cannot just add "taking care of a baby" to my old life and routine. "Taking care of a baby" has changed my life...for the better, yes, but not for the easier. I still don't understand how people can manage to do so many things; I must be doing something wrong because there are days that I don't even pretend like I'm going to take a shower, let alone make dinner from scratch, create something crafty, or clean the bathroom.

This parenting thing is hard. One of the things that makes it hard is that there is no time off. No weekends or summer vacations to look forward to, no opportunities to catch up on sleep or laundry. While I am still thankful to be able to stay home with Elsa most of the time (I am equally grateful to still be able to teach a class or two), I totally get the need to work outside the home. Sometimes I really just want to hide out in an office and alphabetize things...because that's what people in offices do, I'm sure.

I never realized how protective I was of my own time before I had to share it. Service to others has always been an important part of my life, but I now recognize that it was mostly important when it was also convenient. Being on call 24 hours a day is not always convenient...which truly makes it service, I think.

I am not surprised to learn that having children does not increase--and in fact, sometimes decreases--people's happiness. Of course not. But what all those studies fail to note is that it does increase fulfillment. I don't always enjoy teaching, but it does fulfill me. I think that's how it is with a calling. And if parenthood isn't a calling, I don't know what is.    

*Clearly, I am not the first person to have this epiphany. Thanks to Linda Hoffman at for the concept of "airplane philosophy."

Home Sweet Home

As much as we loved living in Downtown Memphis, it was time to move on. Our two-year adventure in this southern city quickly morphed into three, and when Jon found a new job (which is sort of the old job), we decided to stay a bit longer. We realized that with Baby Girl, we needed some more space, so we began house hunting in the fall.

For the first time, we didn't have a deadline for finding housing, which was both good and bad. Good because we weren't rushed; bad because we kept looking...and looking...and looking. Thank goodness for a wonderful real estate agent because she indulged all this looking and showed us lots of places, not minding when we would take a break for a couple weeks here and there.

Despite all this looking, the house we finally made an offer on was the very first house we saw. At the time, it was unremarkable, but after seeing so many other places, we kept coming back. Honestly, it didn't show very well, with pink and purple sponge paint on the living room walls and a giant stuffed white tiger in one of the bedrooms, but once we got past all the cosmetic things, we realized that it had the space and location we didn't know we wanted.

We're no longer located on historic Main Street with restaurants and attractions within walking distance. No more trolley clanging by or river view from the roof. We will definitely miss that. But our lives have changed, so the park directly across the street of the new house has a lot of appeal. We are one block from a coffee shop, two blocks from a brewery, and three from our favorite BBQ place in town, so there's a lot going on around here. And Jon enjoys the challenge of commuting to work by bicycle. It's just a little unfortunate that this adventure began during one of the coldest winters Memphis has had in a while.

So, we've signed our life away, and with the help of friends, moved everything the four miles across town. Moving day was a long one, but now the real work begins with organizing and personalizing our new space. Through this process, we've learned that moving with a baby is tough--next time, we're not moving until Elsa is old enough to help out. Projects take longer than we want them to, with many not starting until after bedtime. Projects also seem to multiply; I feel a little bit like we're living in a less dramatic version of The Money Pit. Windows and paint and a roof, oh my! Ah, the joys of home ownership.

That said, we're enjoying it so far, and are extending an invitation to any and all visitors. Come stay at our house! It's a very, very, very fine house.

Google Earth image of our house (unfortunately the little tree on the left is no longer there)

Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me

Jon and I are nerds. This is not a new revelation.

However, this was confirmed when we got geekishly excited over the announcement that "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!" the NPR news quiz was coming to town. For the uninitiated, "Wait, Wait" is a current events quiz show that airs weekly on public radio. We stumbled upon it several years ago and have been hooked ever since. It's hard to explain the appeal, but rest assured that if you listen to it, you will love it, too.

The show is usually taped in Chicago, and we've actually discussed going to the Windy City for a broadcast. The closest we came to seeing it live was watching a simulcast at a local movie theater this spring. (In fact, it aired the night before Elsa's due date, so we weren't sure if we'd get to see it. I thought for sure that if I had gone into labor during the taping that Carl Kasell would have recorded our birth announcement.)

It turns out we didn't have to go to Chicago after all because "Wait, Wait" came to us. The announcement was made on our local public radio affiliate, and we were buying tickets within the week. Merry Christmas to us!

The stars aligned in that the taping was right down the street at the Orpheum theater and the night before we left for Christmas vacation. Some friends came over to watch Elsa (who was beyond fussy--bad parents that we are, we left anyway), and off we went.

Ready for the show

I will proudly wave my nerd banner when I proclaim how cool it was, especially to hear all of the bonus material that gets edited out. Jon was not exaggerating when he said it was definitely a bucket list item for him, for both of us. Follow this link to listen to segments of the show: If you listen closely, you'll probably hear us laugh. 

But the story doesn't end there. Early the next morning, in line at the airport, I noticed that one of our fellow passengers at the ticket counter was THE Carl Kasell, longtime NPR newsman and current score keeper for "Wait, Wait." Jon and I completely geeked out, introducing ourselves and gushing about how much we love the show. I think Carl was a bit taken aback, but we viewed it as an excellent omen for our day of travel.

Home for the Holidays

Elsa thoroughly enjoyed her first holiday season...not that she had any clue what was going on.

The season between Thanksgiving and New Years is cause for a big celebration in our household, as well as cause for lots of travel. We wouldn't have it any other way, though. This year, however, was the first year that we would be unable to visit both sides of the family for Christmas. Between a new baby and a new job, we just couldn't spend two weeks on the road. We did make the best of the time we had and still managed to see as many people as possible.

Fortunately, we were able to go to Kansas City for Thanksgiving as usual, so even though we weren't able to go back for Christmas, we did kick off the holiday season in the Midwest. Elsa had a great time playing with/observing her cousins, and we're pretty sure she picked up a few tricks from them because when we got back, she was doing all kinds of things she hadn't before, such as standing (supported) for up to ten minutes at a time and sitting on her own. She also mostly enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner, although to be fair, mashed potatoes are much better covered in gravy. Maybe next year, Baby.

Our little turkey

Our next big holiday adventure was a few short weeks later when we boarded a plane for Elsa's first trip to Seattle. Jon had taken great care to select a flight plan that would minimize lay-over time and get us to the Northwest as quickly as possible. Mother Nature wreaked havoc on those plans when, the night before we were set to leave, we received a message that our flight had been cancelled. Luckily we were rebooked in a few hours, but that meant that we had a four-hour lay-over, delaying our arrival considerably.

Elsa did pretty well on the flight, although this was a much longer trip than her first flight, so she didn't sleep as much as we'd hoped. Honestly, though, if she had not been our baby, I don't know that we would have noticed her presence. At least, I hope that's how our fellow passengers felt.

Once we arrived in Washington, it was a flurry of activity with Christmas celebration after Christmas celebration. Elsa met lots of relatives, and we all got to meet our newest niece born the week prior. Our nephews have grown so much since the last time we saw them; it will only be a matter of time before Elsa is chasing after them, too. It was nice to be back, but we quickly realized one thing we hadn't missed: all the driving. We felt as though we spent a considerable amount of time in the rental car; good thing Elsa falls asleep quickly in her car seat.

Apparently Elsa had been a good girl in the first few months of her life because on Christmas morning, she woke up to discover that Santa had visited Grandpa and Grandma's house. Of course, seeing as how Elsa didn't really know who Santa was--other than a scary guy with a beard--I'm pretty sure her stocking was more for Jon and me. Elsa was pretty excited by her loot, though, especially since Santa introduced her to that perennial favorite baby treat known as puffs.

Yay for Christmas!
Elsa received many lovely gifts from her family, and we are all so grateful. However, the best part of the holidays was spending time with family (and friends as close as family) in the Midwest and Northwest, sharing the best gift we've ever received. We're already looking forward to Elsa's increasing joy and wonder during the holiday season in years to come.


Blog Archive