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.