Monday, December 4, 2017

Reframing the Hardships of Moving into Great Stories

We've been transferred from Western Europe back to the States, and while parts of every move are exhilarating and hope-filled, sometimes we need to call other parts what they really are: stressful at best, and totally crappy at worst (right?). But it's amazing how quickly the things that seemed so hard can become hilarious in their retelling with a little time and reframing. We all need to cry before we can laugh though. When the dust finally settles and the challenges are a blurred memory, the stories take on a life of their own and become comic relief -- a great story at a dinner party! Now that we're looking back....

I'll tell about how I got a new phone number on our US cell plan, and then kept getting voicemails from an area correctional facility, asking if I would accept an inmate's call. Special thanks to my number's former owner....

Or about how the very night before we boarded our transatlantic flight home, John's fingers got trapped in the hinges of a heavy hotel door and we heard the crunch of bone. Cue the ambulance, the Luxembourgish ER and a summer cast. (What I'll remember is that John flirted his head off with his nurses, who loved him, and that all he really cared about was whether he'd get a lollipop like the other kid getting a cast at 9pm.)
I'll tell about how we lived out of suitcases for 10 weeks over the summer, changing locations eight times, each move requiring a full day's packing, cleaning and resettling.....where I started using Rob's deodorant and our 6-year old son wore his big sister's underwear to bed one night as pajamas because I. Couldn't. Find. Anything.

Or how for weeks on end, Rob and I made GIANT life decisions from two different cities via text after a roller coaster ride that began eight months prior.

I'll tell about how the only available rental house in Peoria, which was to become home while we awaited our closing date, had a smelly flooded basement with ripped up carpet and exposed tack strips. Rob broke cobwebs with his face on a walk-through. So two days before the kids and I landed in Peoria from New Orleans, we logged another unexpected week with Rob's incredibly gracious folks in Chicago while Rob scouted hotels within our school district's boundaries, which was necessary for enrollment. We made a hotel home for three weeks (no extended stay was available in the district), feeding a family of six with a single hot plate that we bought on Amazon, a mini-microwave and a college dorm-sized fridge. One night I steamed fresh broccoli…and made the entire second floor of our hotel smell like a fart. Rob said it even smacked him in the lobby when he got "home" from work.

Maybe we'll mention our mad-dash house-hunting trip only days after touching down from Europe -- seeing 20 houses a day -- and how in the midst of negotiations, our builder changed his mind and decided not to sell, then woke up with a change of heart and said it was ours after all. When we set down earnest money and started remodeling, we learned the school two blocks away (which inspired our home-purchase) was over-enrolled and may bump us elsewhere. (We were overjoyed when we received acceptance email in early August!).

And how in the midst of our gigantic transition, we discovered we had....wait for it...lice and spent a quick grand on professional remediation, calling in the pros. (Cue the humbling texts to everyone we'd visited in case we'd left them an unexpected gift). Our personal lice SWAT team met us at our hotel and worked her magic until we got the "All Clear," which required daily checks and multiple nights sleeping with olive oil on our scalps. I can't imagine what the hotel staff thought of our towel situation.

I'll tell about finding out our Carmax Suburban wouldn't be delivered for four weeks. When the long-awaited family car finally arrived from South Carolina, it smelled like wet dog, had petrified French fries under the seats and a frenetic rattling window. So after all that, we caravanned back to Bloomington for the second time in five days with all four kids (two hours round trip and a couple of missed naps) to return it to the dealership.

Now we can laugh about how our air shipment, which should have arrived within 10 days of our flight home from Lux, arrived four weeks later with some critical pieces missing, including Rob's entire work wardrobe.

In the midst of it all, we had a grand total of seven ear infections between the four kids (and Bitsy slept in a rather large bathroom closet for several weeks).

Hey, it isn't all glamorous. No one ever said it would be. We're tired and weary and we’re suffering from SDF (Severe Decision Fatigue). We're squeezing what could be years-worthy of life decisions into a month.

But almost all of these experiences register somewhere between a mild to major inconvenience. Nothing more. And more importantly, there is a formidable flip side to each of these stories...these soon-to-be punchlines...these "hardships" we survived (because when I think of 
true hardship, these do not even qualify). 

Each and every time we packed up and moved locations, we landed with a different family member who welcomed us with open arms, filled my children's hearts with love and security, and did everything humanly possible to make us comfortable and welcome. They filled our tanks and talked us through whatever big decision we were making at that point in time. They let me ugly-cry. They made up beds and made us laugh; we made incredible memories.
We loved our wonderful time in Bay St. Louis
We visited my 94-year-old Grandma Madeline
Rob's family hosted us over and over and over again!
Andi opened her home to us and we had so much fun!!
Little John never once complained about that cast. As we boarded our flight home the morning after his accident, the pilot of the international jumbo jet in London came back and found us in our seats, inviting our entire family to meet him in the cockpit when we landed, where he signed it.

Now THERE'S a story we'll tell forever.

Each silly car rental (as we waited for our ill-fated Carmax delivery) helped show us what car to actually buy. And each time I felt stranded without wheels, I thought of all the hardworking folks who are building beautiful lives with so much less. Our jet-lagged, hyper-speed home search gave me confidence in our ultimate selection. I feel so blessed that we have the space to host family and friends after three years away, and that we landed on a cul-de-sac with fabulous built-in friends.

Receiving our late admittance into the children's school made me even more excited and grateful to be able to live in a walkable neighborhood. Sitting on that bubble for a while gave me empathy for the families who were likely bumped within the district to an equally wonderful school in a less convenient location.

And those three weeks in a hotel? I was touched and even flattered by all the friends I haven't seen in 10 years (and in some cases much longer) who reached out, inviting us for play dates, pool outings and family dinners. And while at the time, I thought I might lose my mind in what started to feel like a hunter-green-carpeted prison, our kids will only ever remember the hotel swimming pool, the waffle maker at our breakfast bar and not having to make their beds. I certainly enjoyed piles of fresh towels each morning. The staff was kind and helpful. When we finally moved into our completely empty house as we awaited our sea shipment, a friend and fellow "Cat Wife" stopped over with sleeping bags and pillows, a tent and lanterns, a gigantic Johnny-sized teddy bear and words of encouragement. Her family's similar transition was only a few months behind her. I hope to do the same for someone one day.

We each have our moving war stories, where we're in the trenches and we feel our stamina puttering out. But how I love arriving at that point when we can laugh, revel in how far we've come, and appreciate how lucky we are. THAT's a moment to celebrate and absorb for awhile. Guess what? We're finally there.

I feel so grateful for these hard decisions we've made, because each one has allowed us to design the next stage of our life. To dictate what is most important and to fill our calendars, home and hearts based on what we've learned about ourselves.

Life is pretty darn good. In fact, it’s way better than that. It’s amazing....and we’re only getting started.

(Now I just need to to block a certain incarcerated caller).

Friday, June 9, 2017

John John Turns Six!!

Happy birthday to our John John! This kid makes us laugh SO hard! He basically never wears shoes anywhere (clothes are optional) and his raspy voice and buck teeth (from sucking on his blankees) go perfectly with his spunky humor and pure awesomeness. It's so fun to be his mama! He's so easy to please -- even though we were in complete move transition during his birthday and living in the Novotel, he declared, "This is the best birthday I've ever had!" when he woke up to something as simple as balloons on his hotel room floor. Oh, how we LOVE you, John Thomas!
Rob and I were tying up move related details until late at night, but we wanted John to be able to bring Dunkin Donuts (his request) to his class on his celebration day, so Rob crossed the border to Belgium at 9pm to pick them up for our early morning.

Come Saturday -- our last day in Luxembourg -- we opened John's family gifts in our hotel room, and then headed over to ZigZag, a Luxembourgish indoor playground that specializes in birthday parties. It blew sweet little John away. He invited all his friends from around the world, specifically Cecaelia, his German bestie. It was a blast to watch him feel so special and celebrated!
John, Cecaelia and daddy!
John's last day at the International School of Luxembourg
John, Zade and Tyler
Later that night, just as we were zipping the final suitcase in preparation for our early morning transatlantic flight, poor Johnny stuck his fingers in the hinged-side of a heavy hotel door as it swung shut. We heard a terrible crunch and knew he needed to go straight to the hospital. An ambulance raced John and me to the Luxembourgish ER, where they determined his middle finger was broken and put him in a cast. He was so tough -- what a STUD!! He left with quite a souvenir of Lux, and never complained all six weeks while he couldn't jump in the swimming pool with his siblings.
Our little ladies man!
The pilot signing his cast on the jumbo jet from London to Chicago

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Iceland...A Trip of a Lifetime!



It sounds terribly cliché to say it left me speechless -- especially for a Journalism major -- except that I've been flirting with the first sentence of this blog in my head for days and still just can't put to words how this startlingly beautiful and eerie, windswept land affected us. It felt like we vacationed on we had discovered an unknown planet.
Iceland wasn't even on our radar as a potential place to visit before we moved abroad. But it quickly rose to the very top of our list; we took a family vote and it was everyone's #1 place we wanted to visit before Caterpillar moved us back to America....a transfer we knew could come at any time. Charlie's very best friend, Sólon, is Icelandic, and I had befriended several Icelandic women. So when the first whispers of a transfer home started to surface, we dug deeper than we ever have before and decided to fly to Iceland from Helsinki -- a direct flight -- at the end of our Baltic Cruise. For me, this meant I would travel through seven countries and travel across the Atlantic twice in a matter of two weeks.

I'm so glad we did.

We landed in Reykjavik, the northernmost capital of the world. It was a long travel day. I caught Bitsy's barf in my bare hands and Rob lost his coat (eventually retrieved while I circled the parking lot for an hour!), but it was worth it. The two-hour drive through the Icelandic wild to our Airbnb in Ulfljotsvatn, near Selfoss and the Golden Circle, was other-worldly....steam vents, lava fields, wild Icelandic ponies, snow-covered mountains, gushing streams and ice cold lakes that glittered against the stark volcanic landscape. I read my lovely friend, Kate Ballbach's blog post about their trip to Iceland (read it here), and took her advice to heart: The beauty of Iceland is in its wild. So at greater expense and output of effort, we struck out from the capital (where you can take all sort of day trips on tour buses...a tempting option with four young kids) and instead, opted for a house on a lake in the middle of nowhere.

We loved it.
The first thing we did was jump into our swimsuits and take a geothermal hot tub on our back deck. The water filtering out at our feet was literally bubbling from the center of the Earth and it was HOT.
The next morning was Easter Sunday. The kids were delighted that the bunny found us! After opening their baskets and waiting for Bitsy to wake up, they searched for chocolate eggs throughout the house (not outside for fear that they would blow away!). The Icelandic church we tried to attend was locked for both posted services, so we enjoyed His majesty in the natural world around us. First, we hiked into the Kerio Crater, walking alongside the upper rim and then right down into the groundwater-fed lake.
I loved the Icelandic flag on this church we tried to attend.
Hiking the upper rim. You can't tell how high we feel here!

Next, we drove to Thingvellar National Park, where we straddled the Continental Divide, a huge gash in the Earth where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly ripping apart a few centimeters a year. I can't wait for the kids to see these pictures when they're old enough to understand how COOL this experience was!
Straddling the Continental Divide!
The next morning, we drove to Hveragerdi, a sweet little town known for its hot springs. We enthusiastically began the steep hike past steam vents and mud pools, charging forward to the point at which two streams meet -- one cold and one practically boiling -- the perfect place for a swim and views all the way to the ocean. We started early because we knew a storm was predicted for the afternoon. Well...that storm moved in FAST when we were about 1 km up the mountain! Charlie and Madeline put their arms out, laughing at how the wind carried them....and at that moment, Rob and I realized the situation was potentially dangerous. The storm got stronger and stronger as we safely and quickly doubled back down the mountain -- Bitsy was crying in her Thule backpack as sharp icy snowflakes pelted her face. We made it.
We tied John's change-of-clothes around her face!
After a nice long hot cocoa break, we decided to go check out Reykjavik. We parked and were careful not to let our car doors smash into other cars and people with the whipping winds (this is a big thing!). Rob found a stylish grass-roofed restaurant named Rok, directly across from Hallgrímskirkja (the famous Lutheran cathedral that looks like a rocketship), where we ate traditional Icelandic dishes like reindeer, Plokkfishur (fish pie) and fried cod.

The wind gusts were so strong that a red-bearded, 6-foot tall local told us he wouldn't dare take the southerly road along the Atlantic back to our house. We followed his advice, especially after watching a car go off the road earlier that day. I didn't know it at the time, but both of my Icelandic friends wrote, telling us to take care as they watched the news from Luxembourg! Our new friend told us it was safe to take interior roads (which are more sheltered from the wind and ocean torrents) to the geysirs at Haukadalur. They were steaming and sulfurous, and fired off so suddenly that I dropped my cell phone!
We kept seeing the same people as we made our way to Gulfoss next, a thundering waterfall that disappears into a 105 foot crevasse.
The volume was deafening! We could barely hear each other. 
On our final day, we drove to the famous Blue Lagoon through a lava field along the Atlantic Ocean. It was fabulous! We checked into the spa and entered the 100 degree bright blue waters, churning out of the Earth from 6500 feet below, rich in silica, algae and other healing minerals. We soaked for hours, rubbing the muds on our faces until our skin stung and we were wrinkled prunes.
And that was a wrap. Spring Break 2017. As we waited for our flight in the airport, I noticed bumper stickers that said, "I Survived Iceland" -- the adventure of this place was off the charts, and though we made safe decisions across the board, I COMPLETELY agreed that we had survived Iceland. I hope to survive it many more times. What a trip it was!