Tuesday, June 30, 2015

St. Louis Extravaganza

The last weekend in May, we met up with friends in St. Louis! (Note, I recognize it is the end of June, meaning I'm a full month behind in blogging.  I promise I'll catch up soon!) We haven't seen our friends since we met them in Gatlinburg 2 years ago.  Only this time, their family has grown from 4 to 5! This vacation was a different pace - but we knew with 4 kids under the age of 3, it would have to be!

We left Friday afternoon after Steve got off of work.  We drove about 3 hours to Indy, where we stopped for dinner.  We ate at Jackomo, a pizza place.  Bean enjoyed getting out of the car and running all around the restaurant while we waited to be seated.  The pizza was good, but we just had to cram it down quickly to get back on the road.  We left the restaurant around 8:30 and we still had another hour until our scheduled overnight stay in Terre Haute.

We got up early the next morning and continued our adventure westward.  We met up with our friends at a McCallister's for lunch! Even though we hadn't seen them in 2 years, it felt like our friendship picked up right where it left off! (Actually, we saw Jen & her daughter a year ago when they came to visit!) After catching up over lunch, we caravanned over to the Missouri Civil War Museum.  It was tucked away in a park, but we finally found it.  After watching a brief video, we roamed around the rooms to learn about the Civil War from Missouri's experience.  I especially loved the collection of medical devices!  So crazy to think about how barbaric their solutions were - amputation, harsh chemicals, and enemas - sheesh!

(Inside one of the rooms at the Civil War museum.  They had about 4 rooms.  Some of the basement area was still a work in progress.  Bean and I were back in the corner checking out those medical devices!)

After the museum, we headed to find our home for the weekend.  We got an apartment on airbnb (is there any other way to travel?!). We had the top floor of a house which included 3 bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, and a living room. It worked perfectly! 2 of the bedrooms were joined together, so our friends took those two.  Our bedroom also doubled as the entrance (the stair to outside was accessed in our room).  We had to do a little child proofing  - like moving a glass coffee table, using a couch to block off a side room, etc - but other than that, the house was perfect.

(This was our bedroom. The stairway/entrance into the apartment was behind me.  The french doors on the right opened up into the living room.)

(View through the french doors from our room into the living room. Missing -- glass coffee table.  We moved it behind that dark couch into a nook and blocked it off.)


(Table & benches.  We especially loved the view of a squirrel hanging dead from the power line outside the window.)

(Jake/Jen's bedroom.  You could access it from the hall - which is where I am standing - and then it connected to the next room via a door on the right.)

(Kids bedroom. I'm standing in the hallway, and again there was a connecting door on the left to the other room.)

We had a low-key evening.  The guys watched the kids while Jennifer and I ran to Target to get a few things.  We needed some food to have at the house and they were in need of some kids clothes (a suitcase didn't make the trip, whoops!). After our shopping trip, the guys ordered dinner and headed out to pick it up.  We got gourmet hot dogs from Steve's Hot Dogs on the Hill.  They were delicious!

On Sunday, we woke up early and headed out to go visit the Gateway Arch! Our friends had been up the arch before separately, but it was a new experience for us.  We parked downtown, pick up our tickets, and then walked to the base.  We got a little confused on which side of the arch to enter (there was a lot of construction which didn't help), but we soon discovered the markings on the sidewalk pointing us to the correct side.  Our tickets were for a set time, so we went through security and waited for our time to be called.  All 8 of us were crammed into a tiny elevator pod.  I didn't really know what to expect, but I definitely didn't expect this tiny pod with little seats.  Bean must have inherited my fear of heights, because she wasn't keen on the arch experience. She definitely did not want to be near the windows.  I did my obligatory peek out, but just focused on keeping Bean happy.  We made our decent back down on the opposite side of the arch - so we can say we literally rode the whole Arch! (You could return back to the base on either side, just depended on timing.)

(All of us in the little pod minus Kate.  She was sitting next to Steve under the camera.  It was too hard to try to coordinate us all into the picture.)

(Looking out the window, just not looking too close. . . )

(Steve trying to convince her that the view was really cool - yeah, i'm sure it is. . . )

(Steve's artsy arch shot.  Can I just say how much I love travelling with my own photographer?!  He takes majority of our pictures and I love not having to think about it!)

After the arch, we walked back to our cars and headed to a pretzel place for lunch.  I thought we were getting gourmet deli sandwiches on pretzel buns, but it was literally deli meat and melted cheese on a pretzel cut in half. Haha.  It still ended up being really good, just not what I thought! There also wasn't tables to eat at the pretzel place, so we took it to go and ate back at the house.  Bean fell asleep on the way back to the house, and if I remember rightly, she transferred to the crib (or maybe she didn't. Honestly, her sleep was a blur.  This trip fell right int he middle of her sleep regression phase in which she hated sleep.) The rest of the kids went down for naps, too.  Once they were all up, we loaded the cars back up and headed to the Botanical Gardens.

When we got their, our friends had some technical difficulty with their kids, haha.  They decided it best to go take the kids elsewhere for the time being and meet back up with us later.  So Steve, Bean, and I headed on into the gardens.  Their was a kids playground area that was open for only an hour longer when we arrived, so we went straight there.  Since Bean is under 3, she got into the area free (and we of course got in free by association with her.  Kids ages 3 -12 had to buy an additional ticket to get in).  The area was nice, but I don't think we'd pay to take older kids.  They had some slides, and little obstacle areas.  Bean loved the slides and we alternated who took her down.  She also just loved being out of the stroller and running around.

(There was an area in the kids playground that had a ship named The Pearl.  You could pretend to steer it by turning the big wheel at the front. Bean was too busy just running around to care about the boat/house.)

(It's the Pearlster - as one of Steve's coworkers calls Bean - steering the Pearl!)

(Going down the slide with Daddy!)

(And then going down again with Momma!)

(Bean loved this tree curly slide.  I hate enclosed spaces - another shocker - and made Steve go with her the first few times.  She really wanted to go again and he said he didn't want to go again.  I sucked it up and took her - it really wasn't that bad.)

(Again Daddy!!)

(We survived the slide!)

After the kids playground, we meandered around the rest of the gardens.  We loved the Climatron (rain forest inside a domed building) and enjoyed walking through the hedge maze as well.  After we made our way through the gardens, we met up with our friends at a park nearby our house.  There was a big neighborhood party going on including local bands, food trucks, and a mini petting zoo!  It was a little cold, but that didn't stop us from going and having a good time.  We got tacos and gourmet popcorn from the trucks.  Bean especially loved the goats and pigs in the petting zoo.

(Inside the Climatron -- there were a lot of plaques calling out the different plants and how they survive in the rainforest.)

(Bean being Bean)

(Walking through the hedge maze - we are the blog in the left lower side.  We didn't do the whole thing.  I just took Bean through a section, then retraced my steps, haha.)

(Food Trucks!  It was no Off the Grid, but it was still yummy food and a fun experience!)

(This petting zoo was pretty awesome for being thrown together for a neighborhood party! The animals were just tethered to some posts and roaming around an open area.  There were a couple pins that were quickly constructed for smaller animals like baby pigs.)

(I think she was eating popcorn.  Or cheese.  That's all she ate, the cheese off our tacos and chocolate/caramel popcorn -- awesome parents right here!)

(Bean & Daddy walking through the park form the event to get back to our car.)

On Monday, we spent the whole day at the St. Louis Zoo.  I loved the historical and architectural elements of the zoo.  It's main feature - a bird exhibit that allowed you to experience birds flying around inside a caged building.  It was the first of its kind and was built for the worlds fair in St. Louis.  The exhibit was such a hit, that they kept the structure and created the zoo around it.  We loved all the different animal buildings.  The architecture of them were very ornate and highlighted the animals that were within the building (i.e. - tons of reptile mosaics and marble carving in the reptile building).  Bean fell asleep in her stroller, so we continued to take a leisurely pace around while she slept.  Our friends took their kids for a car ride to earn their quiet nap time!  After the zoo, we went for a drive around the central west end and see some of the architecture.  We ended up stumbling upon the Cathedral Basiclica St. Louis.  Steve originally wanted to go through it and had researched it prior to our trip.  I didn't think it doable with kids, but we decided to pop in quickly since we were right there.  Steve walked all the way around, but I kept Bean more toward the outskirts in case she got too excited.  After the church, we met back up with our friends at the house.  We went out to dinner at Anthonio's Tavern.  It was a restaurant known for its pizza in the Italian district.  The pizza was delicious and we felt like locals eating in the neighborhood.

(Inside the reptile building.  Notice the iguana statues on the ledge.  Each building would have an ornate plant centerpiece in the middle of the building.)

(There was a new penguin exhibit that we were all excited about going through.  However, once we walked in, I quickly realized it was the arctic penguins and I was freezing!  I decided I didn't care about seeing the penguins and wanted out of there! Bean didn't really care; however, there were a ton of people in there and she couldn't really see well anyway.)

(Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis)

(The inside of the church was super ornate.  It has 80,000 sq ft of mosaics! It is probably one of the most beautiful churches we've ever been in - and we've been in a ton throughout Europe!  It's so crazy to think of it being in the middle of St. Louis and to be relatively modern.)

(And we also stopped off for some Ted Drewes frozen custard before we headed back to the house.  It was delicious! Bean gobbled it down.)

(We took some selfies while everyone else napped!)

(Usual kid pile-up.  They played really well together! I brought a bag of toys that were a hit.)

On Tuesday, there was a change in plans due to some sick kids (our friends, Bean was just being troublesome with sleep, not health!).  So Steve, Me, Jen, Bean & Kate ended up heading out to go to the City Museum while Jake and the boys stayed home.  With the name "City Museum" I expected to go and walk through exhibits and learn stuff about St. Louis.  I had been warned that we would need good shoes and clothes because we would be climbing stuff; I just assumed it meant like interactive exhibits.  Boy was I wrong!  It had absolutely nothing to do with a museum, and was basically an adult playground made out of random objects and metal.  I could see the potential for it to be a ton of fun if you went with a group of friends in high school/college; but it definitely is a different experience when you are chasing a toddler around.

(Daddy & Bean going down the first slide inside the "museum")

(Jennifer & Kate!)

(Run Steve Run!)

(Lego Block pit in the toddler area)

(Of all the things to climb and play on, this was Bean's favorite toy in the toddler area.)

(Living life on the edge -- playing in the outdoor playground which starts on the 2nd story.)

(Steve going down what appeared to be a very steep slide.  After he did it, he said it wasn't that crazy.)

(Looking from one platform over at other areas you could climb to.  Yes, you could climb all the way up and into the airplane, no we did not do that!  We did let the kids walk on the walkways as far as they could, then we'd just turn around and go back to a section they could play around. You couldn't really fall off the structure, but there were some definite areas I wouldn't want little kids to wiggle their way into.)

(Ball pit outside! There was 2 separate pits - one for kids under the age of 3 & another for kids of all ages.  They were separated by fencing and the other side had balls constantly being thrown.)

I felt like I could lose Bean at any moment or personally contract tetanus. Haha.  Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad, but just wasn't up my ally.  Three was a nice toddler area, though.  The girls loved running up and down the ramps and slides in the kids area.  Steve went and did a 10 story curly slide on his own while we let the girls play around.  There was also a ball pit outside that they loved playing in (although, I was trying to not freak out over the bird poop on some of the balls. Yikes!).   When we felt like we'd seen all the "City Museum" had to offer, we walked a few blocks to Rooster Cafe.  This was my favorite restaurant from the trip! They were known for their crepes.  I'm not a crepe person (shocking, I know), so I got a BLAT (bacon/lettuce/avocado/tomato) sandwich and it was amazing. Fresh bread, fresh ingredients, homemade sauce.  Yum-o!

After lunch, we headed back to the City Museum and loaded up the car to return to the house.  Both of the girls fell asleep in the car, and I think we transferred them both to naps successfully (at least I'll tell myself that now).  Once all the kids were awake, we went out for ice cream! We hit up a Man v. Food stop -- Crown Candy Kitchen Factory.  They are known for their milkshakes/malts and especially know for their malt challenge.  None of us partook in the challenge, but we did enjoy the shakes! We went back to the house to start packing up and let the kids play around.  We got BBQ take-out for dinner (which was Steve's favorite food from the trip).

Wednesday was uneventful.  We got up, finished packing, cleaned up, loaded up, and said our goodbyes.  We enjoyed St. Louis, but boy was I ready to get back home! (If only we could cut out the 6 hour car ride!) Bean did great.  She took a little nap, and got to enjoy tons of Dora.  We were in survival mode with all her non-sleep.  We got back home just in time for me pull some dinner out of the freezer, eat, and head to church for praise team practice.  Steve and Bean just enjoyed being home!

("We're going home?!  Yay!!")

("I have to be in this car for 6 hours?!  NOOOOOooooooo!")

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Daddy's in China!

When Steve told me a year ago that he'd be going to China for a couple weeks on business, I immediately began to dread the trip.  I was elated when it was canceled/delayed last year.  When he told me they'd be going in May, I didn't believe him.  He would tell me about China meetings to plan the trip, about buying tickets, and finalizing the trip.  I still didn't believe him. 

I delayed packing for him until the last possible minute - like the night before.  I still had hopes that it wasn't going to happen, but knew he'd put too much planning into it for it to get canceled.  He stayed home a little Monday morning, just so we could have a few extra hours of family time.  He left for work just before 11 and we said goodbye to Daddy for a few weeks.  (He left from work that evening to drive to Detroit.  He then flew out early Tuesday morning with a small layover in Seattle). 

With Bean and I on our own for the next couple weeks, I had several projects planned and quickly got to work.  I think subconsciously, I knew that if I overloaded our schedule, time would go by quickly and I'd be too tired to worry about Steve's absence.  

Steve was 12 hours ahead of us.  We got to Skype with him in the morning, before he went to bed.  He always looked tired and sounded discouraged.  He was sick of Asian food by day 2, and discoverd the language barrier to be way worse than expected.  I think he developed a case of homesickness and really missed "his girls" as he calls us.  I knew it would be hard for us, but guessed it would be harder for him.  After all, we had the comforts of home, friends, and family to help us pass the time.  He didn't. Since China is communist, he couldn't access even some basic internet favorites like google (gmail), Facebook, or even Youtube! 

I had originally planned on just packing up and having out at my parents' house in IN for the 2 weeks, but then realized I'm an adult with real responsibilities.  I had to be in Lima during the week so that I could babysit! So Monday - Friday of the first week I was local, but then packed Bean up and headed to IN, returning back to Lima on Wednesday.  On Thursday, Bean and I headed up to Detroit to pick Steve up at the airport! He rode up with a coworker, and had originally planned to ride back with him. However, I realized that by the time he got back, Bean would be in bed, so it made more sense to drive the 2 hours up to see him, so we had the time together in the car.  

Bean did really good not understanding what was going on.  She would ask about daddy, and I'd always remind her that "Daddy's in China!" She seemed okay with that answer.  When she asked about him a lot, I'd show her pictures on the phone, and of course, she got to Skype with him, too.  I think towards the end of the week, she thought Daddy lived in my phone.  She'd say "Daaaa-eee" and point to my phone.  She and I were with each other around the clock, and got pretty close.  I kind of feared us getting too close (I'll post more about that in the next couple posts, but my fear came true.  She got very dependent on just me.  She loved having Steve back home, but would get upset if I left her with him.).  

(Once Steve left, I set up "sewing land" in the living room.  I set up my sewing desk on the outside of the gate so that I could work on some projects while Bean played in the living room. This set up actually worked really great! Only issue was that I rarely had time to sew! We were busy with going places, playing outside, and watching James! I didn't want to sew during naptimes, in fear of waking kids up, so I only sewed for an hour each morning.  I only got 1 baby blanket mostly done, and another half done. I kept sewing land up after Steve returned and knocked out those baby blankets and a couple outfits for Bean! Now sewing land is in the sun room.  Bean is good about playing in the living room, or coming in and playing in the room around me while I sew.)

(Another project that took a few days was cleaning out the closet and switching out winter clothes for summer clothes.  Of course it was 80 degrees on the day I switched the clothes, and it dropped to the 60s the next day.  That always happens! I still have to do Bean's clothes.  I've been in a bad habit of throwing any clothes that don't fit her into a big box.  I need to sort through it all and properly put it away.  I also took Bean clothes shopping one day and got her a new summer wardrobe! We are officially out of hand me down clothes, so she was in some desperate need of her new size - 3T!). 

(I randomly decided to pull the trigger and do a small garden.  We went to Menards, I bought a couple plants -- 2 varieties of tomatoes and some sweet peppers.  I had to make up an area by weeding, edging, and planting my veggies.  I was able to do it all while Bean slept.)

(Finished garden! It is located on the West side of the garage.  This is about the best sun location without it being in our front yard.)

(This also happened -- all the helicopters fell! We did a lot of playing outside, so while bean played, I tried to sweep up some of the helicopters.  They just kept falling, so you couldn't really tell.  Oh well, I tried!)

(The day before we were to head to IN, my "low tire pressure" warning light came on!  I emailed Steve and he explained what I needed to do.  I did know how to test the pressure, just wasn't sure what I was aiming for.  I tried each tire and discovered that 3 were just about right, and 1 was 7 pounds too low! Eeeks.  His email explained how to use the compressor to fill the tire back up.  It took me a few minutes (and a non-helpful call to my sister) to figure out how to lock the compressor onto the tire.  But I figured it out, and we made it to/from IN and even to and from Detroit without any issue!)

(Of all weeks for Bean to figure out climbing. . . We had been lucky that it took her so long to realize she could climb up on the dark couch all by herself.  1 day into Steve's absence and she climbed up onto the couch, over the armrest, and got stuck in between the end table and the couch.  She freaked out over getting stuck and didn't do it again; however, there was lots of climbing on the couch in general.)

(My mom was gone while we were at her house.  So I was the lady of the house in her absence, haha.  While I was there, I cleaned and readied the house for Memorial weekend visitors.  Bean did a lot of playing on her own- and of course with Coco the dog!)

(My sister Amber got the idea that we should clean up the basement for my mom while she was gone.  My brother even worked his schedule so that he could come and help.  I'll spare you the before pictures, but let's just say, you couldn't see the floor or navigate at all.  2 truckloads of trash/recyclables left, along with an SUV full of my brother's stuff, and a van full of items donated to Goodwill! Mom didn't know that we had planned this clean-out; although, information was leaked and she had a slight concerning freak out over it.  We assured her we weren't just throwing her stuff away, and she was thankful for the clean basement when she returned! Dad was there the whole time, although he wasn't involved.  He was especially thankful, too! We got the "backroom" cleaned out too, so that he could actually access his workbench again!)

(Bean was a trooper for all the time she spent in the car.  3 hours on Wednesday, 4 on Thursday, and another 3 on Friday for our return to IN for Memorial weekend.  I had planned of just hanging out in the cell phone lot at Detroit, but who knew their cell lot was BEFORE you even got to the airport exit?!  I couldn't figure out how to turn around to get their, so in a last second decision, I parked in the parking garage.  It ended up working great, because I needed to potty and Bean was ready to run around! I let her run around as we waited for Daddy to show up to get his bags.  He knew we were coming, but didn't know that we were meeting him IN the airport.  His phone had died, so it worked perfectly!)

(Daddy's back!  She was excited to see him, but more excited to continue running around!)

All in all, we survived, but I'm very thankful for Steve being home.  Being a single parent is exhausting.  I don't know single parents function (and I only have 1 child!) other than by the grace of God, haha.