Sunday, January 07, 2007

The First Post of the Year- and it's a big'n

Well, I have just realized that George has a bit about our trip on his blog as I was coming in to write about it on mine- yes, you have to go through Mumblety-peg to get to anything else on our computer! But maybe it will be fun to get the male and female recap; or maybe some of you don't read George's blog and you can just enjoy this for being a new post.

I am so easily overwhelmed. I talk about being overwhelmed on a daily basis. Our trip to Alabama and Nashville overwhelmed me with happy circumstance. I am bubbling over with joyous memories of our wonderful vacation! What a change! It was so nice to be over our illness and out of town (and that's not specific to this town, anyone needs a break from any town after not getting out in four months and moving, having surgery and a new baby, and being sick at Christmas etc. during that four months). I just felt the negative kind of melt off me. Not that I didn't bring my same Eeyore-ish prone to the grumps personality with me, I just escaped the things that usually get me down. The whole ten days was a huge success story!

First of all, I packed fairly light. There was to be a washer and dryer everywhere we were staying so I only brought five outfits per child for a ten day trip, highly unlike me I know but I'm not sure if we even have ten outfits for each child right now anyway. And that cut way back on the pre-travel and during travel chaos. But you know me, there was definitely pre-travel chaos! George also made the wise investment of a weatherproof travel bag for the luggage rack. He pulled the extra captain's chair out of the middle of the van too. So we had oodles of space inside the cabin which was a huge change from our big trip this summer when we weren't also packing baby tubs, bouncy seats, and travel cribs (okay, just one of each of those; excuse the dramatic use of plurals). Imagine all of those extra things with all of the bags inside and the extra chair! I do not think at all like George does; this is very much a blessing, especially in this case. And though that did save even more in the chaos department, we still found ourselves up until three in the morning trying to get ourselves together to leave the next morning and didn't even get out of town until three in the afternoon!

Part of that (the staying up and leaving late) was because we made it a priority to work in a Christmas celebration with George's family that we had been forced to cancel on Christmas Eve. It was nice that we did somehow work it in before leaving. We had a little egg nog (store bought icky kind with major corn syrup, but sometimes you just have to take a shortcut), a little mulled cider, and the exchanging of the gifts. George and I had decided to only get each other one gift this year. His gift for me was still on backorder on Christmas morning and my gift for him was one I had bought before the decision was made, so it was fairly ho-hum for his one big gift- I would've chosen something much more exciting had I known at the time that it would be all I would be giving him. My parents were very generous in giving us a check about a week before Christmas. My younger sister had given me the old birthday/Christmas combo gift several weeks ago, something we do often for each other because we both have December birthdays and we can get each other nicer gifts with the "combo." So basically, all that was under the tree for us grown ups on Christmas morning was the one gift I got for George (and a picture of what he had ordered for me printed off the computer), a gift for the two of us from my sister in France, and a gift for each of us that the children had picked out when they went shopping with their grandmother. The gift from my older sister turned out to be some delicious multiple award winning extra virgin olive oil from Greece and what promises to be a fabulous wine from France for a future special occasion (I'm thinkin' our seventh anniversary in May, or Valentine's if we can't wait that long!). Oh, and my younger sister got George the Cardinals' World Series DVD. And the kids got us some cute little gifts that really surprised me. I got a watering can because my old one had broken. And George received a birdhouse that the children had helped put together. We are so blessed with sweet family and friends that make the whole season a celebratory time. And the emphasis really should be on giving, but it is still nice to get things, right? Well, I think so. We tried out taking turns giving out presents on Christmas morning this year instead of how we used to take turns opening; it pretty much works the same way as far as turns go, only the turn is to find a present for someone else and give it to them. It was exciting to hear the kids shouting out "I want to give one now!" instead of "my turn to open!" I think my spoiled little heart still screams "my turn to open!" inside against my will. But it was my turn to open when George's family came over, at least as much as it was anyone else's; and George's brother and sister gave me a great fleece jacket, something I really needed and love because it is pink (which is evidently no longer available, so you can't see the color on this link, sorry!) and has the pull string waist from the inside so it gives you a little bit of shape (Stacy and Clinton would be proud!) I would say that this was just in time for our trip, but one of the unfortunate things about the South (yes, I said "unfortunate things about the South"... deep breaths!) is that it is insanely hot there, even in December, and no jacket was required for most of the trip. But I love it so, I wore it anyway! Katie got the kids a super zoo pass to that free zoo everyone thinks should make me love living here (just to be clear, I do love the zoo. It is a great zoo and is amazing that it is free! It is just not part of my daily life, nor are the other great free attractions, so it doesn't negate all the other things that are part of my daily life, which as I said, are mostly personal and don't have too too much to do with St. Louis specifically anyway. For example, the largeness of the city is a daily thing for me and it is hard for me to be unaware or unaffected by it. However, with the zoo pass, the zoo can be much more a part of my daily life than before.). The pass gives us free train rides, and as far as August goes, that is all we ever need. It also gives us free parking and some free meals and free admission to the children's zoo which you normally have to pay for. George loves the zoo in winter, so I am sure we will break in our new pass during his winter break from classes. It was a gift I requested for the children, but was as much for George and I as for them. I also received a renewal to my subscription to Cook's Illustrated , something George's brother does for me every year that I really appreciate and enjoy. And George got a great shirt and jacket (which he has seriously worn every day since) from his brother and the Sufjan Stevens Christmas box set from his sister. So aren't we glad we worked this little event in, regardless of how late it made us going in to Nashville? But back to that (this may be a good time for a break, this is a long post and I am nowhere near finished!!! Here, I'll space it with little asterisks so you can find your spot)...


Time in Nashville was really great. I have had "issues" in the past with my family, as I know everyone who reads regularly has picked up on. My parents were divorced for several years and then remarried(to each other again), and it has just taken me a while to hash out all the before, after, and during things that I never really recognized or dealt with until after. They have been back together now for seven years, so hey, it only took me seven years to work through twenty-nine years of expectations, dysfunction, etc. I feel like I have finally hashed it all out and can be with my parents and know what to expect, be reconciled and at peace with everyone with no "elephants in the room," enjoy them for who they are, and appreciate all they have done for me (rather than dwell on what might not have gotten done as I had been doing). This is a place I never thought I'd get and is an encouragement to me as I face other sorts of long term type challenges. I hope any of you might be encouraged too. Even less than a year ago, I sat in front of our church elders in tears as we shared our testimonies when we joined. There was still so much of my life and testimony that was really hurting for me. I think God has healed much (even all?) of that and I am really excited. I have never entertained the idea of living in Nashville again because of all of the unreconciled feelings I had. I have found myself over the past few months missing my family and Nashville so much. I was half expecting to get there and be so over any sentimentality I had built up and kind of get back to thinking "anywhere but Nashville." Instead, I just found what I have envied in so many of my friends in the past in myself, a real longing to get back where my family is. I have loved Nashville for its geography and its climate and even its food and shopping. I have run from Nashville because of my roots though. I am finding my roots there to be a happy thing though now, and I'd be excited about them pulling me back sometime.

As George mentioned, my mom is a fantastic playmate for the children and allowed us to catch up on the rest we had missed being up late with Christmas preparations and that whole 3am the night before leaving thing. I think I just needed extra rest after being sick too. She is also a super shopper, which I am not and usually don't appreciate. Our shopping list was of the particularly fun variety this time though: slippers for me and a diaper bag for Elspeth. Oh, and we had to be sure to check out the new smocking store in Franklin, very exciting and inspiring! Here are my new slippers, great for an apartment with hardwood floors and concrete basement floors (when our computer and laundry, both big workspaces for me, are in the basement). They are toasty warm, which helps my feet stay nice and soft and keeps me from being frustrated that all the pumice stones and lotions don't work- they do work, just not when you then go around barefoot all day! They also have great arch support for my very high arches. Mine are the blue, not the pink, because George thought the pink would show dirt and look dingy too soon. Super cute huh? My parents both have a couple of pairs of this brand; they are supposedly well worth the hefty price point and last quite a while. You don't have to get sheep on them; I just liked the type of soles used on the sheep model, it's a little sturdier I think. We never found a diaper bag. That was a fiasco in and of itself. We did find one but they got all mixed up about the monogram and we ended up not getting it. So the irony is that I am going to try to look for a sweet baby bag in St. Louis when I couldn't find one in Nashville or Birmingham (didn't get much of a chance to look in Birmingham though). I bet I'll find one here too. And then I'll eat crow for all to see. I'll post about that when it happens.

So that's the Nashville shopping; we hit all the sweet baby boutiques and I got my fill of eye candy for a while. But we also got our fill of favorite foods. We went to Phillip's, my favorite deli with out of this world pasta salad which is always included on the itinerary usually right before or after visiting my grandmother in the nursing home. We have never been to Philip's without running into an old friend and my mother commented on this sadly as we were near finished with our meal and had not seen anyone we knew yet. "Oh well, we're eating sort of late I guess," she said. And I said, "we haven't left yet." And almost instantly the athletic director from my old high school walked in. Understanding that my old high school had about 66 people total for grades 9-12 at one point and now has way more than that in each class will help you understand why it was so exciting to see him and introduce him to George. He asked about you, Rachael.

We also have a favorite pizza that can only be gotten down South, as far as I know. We got together with old friends from both high school and Auburn and had Mellow Mushroom pizza, in my opinion the best in the world. I have tried and tried to find comparatively good pizza up here, but folks around these parts are more interested in what is called St. Louis style pizza with ultra thin crust and provel cheese which is a cheese that is great on salads and other places but not my favorite on pizza. I think provel is sort of indigenous only to St. Louis and they're pretty proud of it. I can't help but prefer the Mellow Mushroom mozzarella and parmesan on a hand tossed crust. The company was even better than the pizza though. Our children are all pretty close in age and play great together. And you know when the kids play great, the parents actually have a chance for real conversation. Conversation comes even more easily with brownies a la mode and Baileys coffee, mmmmm! Their generosity did not stop with a delicious meal and good company; somehow I made it out of their house with a really nice baby gift (two darling pink outfits!), a great Christmas CD (we listened to it on our way to Birmingham- who cares that it was the 29th!), and some cutie fabric (George says it will look great in my stack of fabric here! ha ha!). I think we should go over there more often! Seriously, all the gifts aside, we should go over there more often. I think they might appreciate if we leave before ten o'clock next time though!

Another favorite eatery near Nashville is Meredy's Breadbasket, a great little bakery with the best fruit tea ever! I met a dear friend of mine from high school and Auburn, the one who ended up not liking Auburn and transferring. We actually talked about that and she said she thinks she would've liked Auburn if the circumstances in her life had been different. Point well taken. Of course, she wasn't really trying to make a point because she is truly the most gracious person I know. I told her that I hoped I had been supportive and gracious to her when she struggled with the homesickness and she confirmed that I had been. The reason, I remember, is because there was a time that I had hated Auburn (more deep breaths, yeah I really did). I remember driving back from meeting a friend for the weekend in Atlanta and there was literally a cloud hanging over the western sky in the direction of Auburn and I just thought that was a picture worth a thousand words. So when my friend came behind me and had similar homesick feelings, I was able to understand even though I had fallen in love with Auburn by then. All that to say that some things are really a matter of time and place and we have to do our best with that. The time at Meredy's place that day was a real delight. I had not until then gotten to meet my friend's little girl who has just turned one. She was adorable. The pastries and coffee were just as I remembered, the conversation was wonderful because of with whom I was conversing, but also because I had managed to leave Amabel and August at my mom's house with George, and I even grabbed a fruit tea on the way out for the road.

The time in Nashville bookended our trip. We were in Birmingham for a long weekend in between all of these events. There were still so many people in both places that we wished we could have seen. We just missed friends in Birmingham that had come up here for Christmas. We were too sick to visit with them before we left here and then they headed back to Birmingham the day we headed back up to Nashville. I had two other friends from high school that I tried to get together with in Nashville but the timing just didn't work out. I also missed spending time with my favorite aunt and uncle (Can I say that on here? I don't think any of them have any idea I have a blog. Besides, I didn't say which aunt and uncle I was referring to). We did have one other family that we got together with when we came back through Nashville (that's actually when we did most of this stuff). The Campbells were good friends of ours in Birmingham and they moved to Nashville shortly after we moved to St. Louis. I reckon we'd see them either way, but it is most convenient that they live only five minutes from my parents' home. Elizabeth always makes a great meal whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner (nope, she's not afraid to have guests for any meal!). We had a great dinner this time with a yummy dessert to follow and lots of conversation late into the night. Yeah, we have a pretty bad habit of staying too long. If you are ever thinking of having us over, you may want to practice subtle ways of shooing us out, or even just stating a departure time when you let us know what time to arrive (i.e. "Could y'all come over for dinner from six to nine next Friday?"). It's just that the kids played so well and we had so much catching up to do! It was a really nice night. I think I will post several recipes to honor each of our kind hostesses, if they will share their secrets with us. I must have you all taste that fabulous pie!

It would be hard to pick a great recipe from the Birmingham trip, just one that is. Rebekah (also affectionately called Ru- but just by George and I) is a hostess and chef extraordinaire. She was a little easier on herself than usual this year and delegated out a few meals. I made Annie's super red beans and rice, so with her permission I might re-post that here, and pimento cheese for my two meals. Rebekah took care of dinner the next two nights: a fabulous lasagna (she ignored my suggestion to just by the big frozen ones at Sam's and made a sensational one from scratch!) and shrimp and grits on New Year's Eve. Now I don't like shrimp. I wasn't gonna say anything 'cause ya know I'm just so polite (did you read my sister's post about the foie gras? you've got to!). But I had second helpings of this! I actually haggled over the last of the shrimp with Stephen (also affectionately called Stu- again, just by George and I). Way to go Ru! Mmmmm boy! Can I post both the lasagna and the shrimp and grits? You have to share the recipes first, and I know you will because you owe me (wink wink). Ahem, anyway, we did some good eatin'. We also had some great breakfasts most of which I missed out on because Elspeth decided to quit sleeping through the night on our trip and wake up to nurse every two hours (hurray! sigh...). But one morning I was able to grab a helping of Ali's super creamy grits casserole . I will try and track down that recipe too. Aren't y'all hungry now?

Well, it wasn't all about food at the farm (not actually in Birmingham, but right outside Tuscaloosa about an hour from the Ham), we had a wonderful time visiting old friends. I was the first by two children and three years to have kids. The other four couples at our weekend get together truly helped us raise Amabel back then. We had a whole batch of free babysitters for Amabel and even Aug too after he was born until we moved away. Then all of the sudden, they all started having their own children and we weren't there to get to know their precious children or to help them out as they had helped us. This weekend their investment paid off just for a while as Amabel helped keep an eye on all their little ones. We still supplied half of the children there, but it was really exciting to see all these babies and who they are for longer than looking at a photograph or grabbing a quick meal out. We had lots of game playing and wine drinking (wine being a generic term for all manner of tasty drinks) and even rang in the New Year, but that was sort of a low point as we have all become worn out parents (okay, so if you know me, you know I am never in bed before midnight, but when everyone else is tired and your baby hasn't let you sleep, it's easy to feel tired hours before you would normally go to sleep!). Then on New Year's Day we had a little game watching (War Eagle!) and more eating Rebekah's fabulous food, chili this time, and more visiting. We had an extra family come up just for the day, my dear friend Michelle and her husband and three children were able to come over at the last minute. Michelle's children are all pretty close to the same age as mine and that means that they play really well and allow us some time for better conversations than we can get on the phone. Our husbands are both in seminary so that means that we and they have much in common. I was really glad they were able to get out to see us.

So now my heart is full. It was just a great great time. I did get a little bit of a sinking feeling after playing the license plate game all the way home (Dontcha just hate that? It's like you just can't help yourself, you have to look at the license plate. Because where are those people from?!) and after pulling off at our exit noticing that all the tags were suddenly Missouri tags. "Nice attitude!" George remarked. Well, I'll work on it. I'm re-energized now! And if you have read this crazy long post that took ten days to live and two days to write, you better go grab a coke and re-energize as well. Happy New Year y'all!


RHB said...

Love the links! I am so glad that you had such a great trip! Sorry you didn't get to see that favorite aunt and uncle though. And glad that you are having happy thoughts about the fam! :) Yaay! See you in April, I hope? Let's go to the Pancake Pantry!

the good, the bad & the ugly said...

Sounds like a wonderful week!!! I am so glad that you were able to have some good southern food and warm fellowship. I want you to know that Elspeth's birth announcement was the sweetest one I have ever seen. I took it around to several friends at church to brag about it. So her sweet little face is famous around here!:) (And the Christmas card was adorable too!) Do you know that I only made one announcement for Josh and only one for Lydia Joy and put it in each of their baby books to make it look like I sent out announcements??? Shameless, I know. But it's the thought that counts right? :) I hope she (Elspeth)starts sleeping through the night soon. Our little one usually sleeps 6-7 hour stretch, but that turns out to be 2 or 3 in the morning since I put her to bed when the boys go down. I do look forward to the day when my eyes stayed closed until dawn! One more thing, I made the Mediterranean Chicken and Pasta tonight for dinner that you posted a while back. It is the second time we've had it and it is so good!! (I also baked your pumpkin chocolate chip muffins and Jackson and I devoured them!)

Elizabeth said...

*with diet coke in hand*

SOO glad we were fortunate enough to get to visit with y'all on your way back through, and so glad your trip was so refreshing. Caroline and Jack enjoyed Amabel and August so much, too! I'm really glad we don't live in B'ham now so we don't have to compete with the folks there :)

Elizabeth said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I am so with you on thinking Mellow Mushroom is the best pizza. I can tolerate pretty-much anything, but MM is the only pizza that I truly crave...mmmm, yummm--need some pizza to go with my diet coke.

lauren said...

why am i suddenly starving abby? please, please post those recipes! :) on that note...does rebekah have a blog??? if not, everyone encourage her to start a cooking blog please!

so sorry we missed y'all too, but i am so happy to know that you had a blessed trip.

Katherine said...

okay, can i say the Mellow Mushroom in Charlotte does NOT have the same pizza as in Auburn & B'ham & other places?! i have tried the 2 places in Charlotte, and neither have come up to the high standard Auburn & B'ham set. tim & i have had to find other pizza places here. it is so disappointing!

glad you had so much fun on your road trip! it is so heart-warming to visit with close friends, esp. when you don't get to spend lots of time with them.

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