Sunday, August 31, 2014

Scenes From Chicago

Last spring my husband came to me with an idea. "Hey, what do you think about taking a trip to Chicago in August?"

"You mean for our anniversary?!? Honey, that is SO sweet!" He never plans ahead, so I was gleefully shocked to think he was imagining a romantic getaway for us months in the future.

"Oh, err, um, yeah. For our anniversary. And also, the Orioles will be in town."

So last week we jetted out to Chicago to see John's favorite baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, play the Cubs...I mean, for a romantic anniversary weekend.

Either way, I was excited because it was our first big trip together in 7 years and our first time away from all three kids EVER. At this point I would be happy to go on a date to our local Chili's if it meant I could remain seated for the entire meal and not listen to a squeaky voice yell "BITE! BITE! BITE!" every time I lift my fork to my mouth (even though she has the exact same thing cut up in tiny pieces in front of her), so I was ecstatic to be able to eat meals and sleep in a bed in an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT STATE.

As I mentioned, John is not much of a planner, but lucky for him, I AM. I researched, asked friends, read blogs, made reservations and bought tickets. I typed up a color-coded itinerary for us. And printed out copies. On second thought, it's amazing he agreed to travel with me at all.

I planned your typical Chicago-tourist type things like a show at Second City and an evening at the 95th floor of the John Hancock building to take in the spectacular city view.
At the Signature Room: the dining experience was ok, the views were unparalleled. 

I planned some not-so-typical things like a restaurant where we ate dinner from a nest...
"Um, what do you mean my dinner is 'in here somewhere'?

...and a charred stump.
I believe this experience merits it's own blog post. (see here)

Some of my plans did not pan out so well, which can often be the case when you're somewhere new and unfamiliar. However, my husband (the man who never plans ahead and is never on time) is blessed with what seems to be this innate streak of good luck that causes things to naturally work out for him even better than if he followed a color-coded itinerary.

We had tickets for a riverboat architecture tour, which was cancelled. A heavy rainstorm the night before had caused the water levels to rise, making it impossible for the boat to pass under some of the bridges. Who knew?

Instead, John suggested we make our way down to Navy Pier.

Navy Pier is Chicago's number one tourist attraction and I had read reports that it can be an overly-crowded, overly-commercialized tourist trap. But, for whatever reason, on our visit that morning there were no lines, no crowds, and a delightful breeze blowing in from the harbor to cool down the August heat. Maybe the rainy forecast had discouraged other travelers from exploring the pier that morning. Or maybe it was just my husband's dang lucky streak that made it all fall into place.

Ferris wheel selfie!

I was also DETERMINED to try a Chicago-style hot dog while we were in town. I'm convinced that really good hot dogs are one of life's greatest pleasures, ranking right up there with fresh pasta and nachos. If I were on a deserted island and could only eat one food for the rest of my life, I would readily choose bun-sized, all-beef hot dogs as long as I had a grill and a variety of fresh toppings.

In Chicago, they serve their hot dogs on a poppyseed bun with mustard, onions, relish, sliced tomatoes, a pickle spear and spicy sport peppers.

Naturally, a Chicago dog is a MUST while in Chicago, and I decided that if I was going to eat a Chicago dog, it might as well be the BEST hot dog in Chicago.  All my research pointed me to a little place in the north side of Chicago called Hot Doug's. Reviewers raved about the "foie gras dog" and the "duck fat fries." "Without exaggeration, the best hot dog restaurant in the world!" one exclaimed. Hot Doug's even has a quote emblazoned on a large, hot dog-shaped sign that reads, "There are no two finer words in the English language than 'encased meats,' my friend." I would have to agree.

The reviewers mentioned there would be a line. Unfortunately, they neglected to mention exactly how long that line would be.
I had to swipe this photo off Instagram since I was too distraught at the time to document my disappointment.

By the time we arrived at 11:30am, the line was already 3 hours long. See the itsy-bitsy red awning in the photo above? That's Hot Doug's. From where we were in line, you could not even see the awning. People brought LAWN CHAIRS and COOLERS with them to wait in line. An ice cream truck circled by to sell frozen treats to sweaty customers as they waited. I'm surprised no one whipped out a grill to tailgate before the main event. I don't know what makes people willing to spend half a day waiting for a hot dog, but Doug must have hired the Angels themselves to grind the meat and add spices from Heaven.

Sadly, I don't know what the word's best hot dog tastes like, because we couldn't wait for 3 hours. We had a baseball game to get to.

And the best part of the game for me? My husband bought me a big ol' Chicago-style hot dog.
Verdict: fresh, spicy, sweet. It's no Carolina dog, but I'd eat another. Especially if it happened to be made by meat-grinding angels.

For some reason, John was quite frustrated I kept calling this place "Wrigley's Stadium," so I must inform you that it is actually named WRIGLEY FIELD and it is a national historic treasure or something like that.
They had some cute t-shirts for sale with little bears on them, but John wouldn't let me buy one.
Other highlights included fresh pasta from Eataly; part restaurant, part gourmet grocery, part bookstore, part kitchen store. It reminded me of the marketplaces in Florence, only a LOT cleaner and without exclamations of Ciao, Bella! every 10 steps. Eataly: cheesy name, amazing place. Check it out.

We also had dinner with my sister, Katie, (a Chicago resident) at award-winning restaurant and dessertery Mindy's Hot Chocolate. The food was so good we forgot to take pictures.
But we did manage one fuzzy snapshot for our mom. You're welcome, Mom!
Finally, we did managed to snag a ride on a riverboat architecture cruise right before leaving for the airport. If you do one thing while in Chicago, this is it.

We had a wonderful time. It wasn't all romance and rose petals, we went to 2 baseball games, after all. There was even the occasional argument, like when we almost missed our departing flight. Twice. (It was John's fault.) But I attribute the success of our trip to 5 things:

1. My excellent planning
2. John's knack for winging it when my plans go awry
3. Yummy food
4. Occasionally making out
5. Appreciating the moments together, particularly those spontaneous and unplanned

Come to think of it, those are the things that make our marriage work too.

And a big, giant THANK YOU to all the grandparents who made this trip possible! Although we are currently in the throws of some serious DETOX, it was well worth it. ;)

Note: Because some have asked, all photos were taken with my iPhone and most were edited with the apps Snapseed or VSCO Cam.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

NINE: When You've Been Married as Long as Your Age Gap

I was 18 years old, still in high school and waiting tables for extra cash. He was 27, back in college, and working at the same restaurant.

With our 9 year age difference, we weren’t exactly an obvious couple. In fact, some were a bit scandalized when we started seeing each other. What could you possibly have in common? You grew up in completely different decades! Anna, he’s, like, A MAN!

Maybe it was the way he always insisted on carrying my cumbersome food trays for me. Or the time I convinced one of his tables he was actually Ben Affleck researching a movie role. Or the evening he tenderly leaned over and whispered in my ear, You have something green in your teeth!

But somehow, what started out as late night chats closing down the restaurant turned into a 4 year journey that culminated at the end of an aisle in front of our friends and family.

Still, I think some had their concerns.

My maid of honor, however, did a fabulous job of laying all worries to rest with her reassuring reception speech:

"...It seems like nothing matters when you're in love. Through good times, bad times, through all the times, the only thing that matters is that you share them together. Age becomes nothing more then a number.

BUT, just for fun, let’s look at the numbers:

When Anna was 1 year old, John was 10. Talk about robbing the cradle!

When Anna was 5 years old, John was 14. She was starting Kindergarten and he was going into high school.

When Anna was 6, John was 15. They both had bad hair; she in sponge curlers, he had a mullet.

When Anna was 7, John was 16. He was getting his license. She was just learning to cross the street by herself.

When Anna was 9, John was 18. He was working out at the gym. Anna could be found at the jungle gym.

When Anna was 12, John was 21. Anna wasn’t a teen. Neither was he.

When Anna was 16, John was 25. Anna had just gotten her first beat-up old car. John was
still driving his beat-up old car.

When Anna was 21, John was 30. She could have a drink because she was finally legal. He needed a drink because, let’s face it, he’s gettin’ on up there!"

Today is our 9th anniversary. Today we have been married for as long as our age difference.

If we were looking at the numbers of our marriage today, just for fun, it might go something like this…

NINE: the number of anniversaries we've celebrated

EIGHT: the number of times he's forgiven me for hitting something with the car

SEVEN: the number of spills we clean up each day

SIX: the number of times we put the kids to bed every night

FIVE: the number of job changes we've had

FOUR: the number of addresses we've shared

THREE: the number of times he held my hand as we welcomed our sweet babies into the world

TWO: the couple that is more committed to each other today than we were nine years ago

ONE: the beautifully messy, perfectly ordinary, deeply satisfying life we have created together

After nine years our age difference is practically negligible. In fact, last year at a Christmas party, someone asked us who was younger and I almost choked on my cocktail (um, ME!). 

The truth is, I'm glad that the more the years go by, the less the numbers seem to matter. 

I'm glad we don't keep track of the number of hurtful words that slip out too hastily or the countless arguments over such monumental issues as to which number to set the thermostat or the proper way to fold a bath towel. I'm embarrassed at the number of times I've added more tallies under my name on the parenting ledger and made myself the martyr, instead of taking the time to acknowledge all the things he's done for me, for us, each day. 

I'm glad that the pettiness is gradually eclipsed by the mountain of I love yous that accumulate day after day, month after month, year after year. I'm thankful that there is no way to count the innumerable good-night kisses or comforting hugs or the sweet moments of simply being together. 

After nine years we've added to our romantic notions of love with the lessons that love is patient, love is kind, love is not jealous, and love does not keep score. We cling to the promise that this kind of love never fails. 

After nine years he still helps carry my heavy loads. And I still kinda think he looks like Ben Affleck. 

This may work out after all.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

So What Do You Do All Day?

A pair of big blue eyes peek over the side of the bed at me. Disheveled tufts of blond hair poke in all directions. "Mommy. I want pancakes. And dip."

It's how my day usually starts, normally around 7:30am. After hearing some horror stories from friends about their 5am risers, I am grateful we seemed to pass on the sleep-in gene to our children. Because anytime after 7am is definitely sleeping in for the preschool set.

I constantly scold myself that I should get up an hour or so before the kids, to shower, make preparations for the day or just to soak in some quiet solitude. I should get up, but in the battle between shower and sleep, sleep ALWAYS wins.

So I usually begin my day already feeling a tad bit behind.

When I quit my job to stay home with my first child, I had a friend ask me about my new life as a stay-at-home-mom. "So, what do you do all day?" she curiously asked.

She wasn't being rude and I wasn't offended. She was a working mom with a full-time job and I often wondered how she managed to cram all of her responsibilites in a 24 hour period.

So one day this summer, inspired by other bloggers' "Day in the Life" posts, I documented our day with my iPhone.

This is what I do all day.

Spoiler alert: It's not glamorous. It's not even exciting. But it's never dull. And it's always a bit messy.
Day in the Life: Summer 2014
Jack (almost 5)
Henry (2.5)
Elise (16 months)

On this particular morning, John took our 4-year-old out for some "Daddy/Jack time." They went to McDonald's for breakfast (Jack's choice) and our son was quite disappointed to discover that they do not serve chicken nuggets at 8:00am. He cheered up when John pointed out that they do serve Sprite.

And I wonder why they think Daddy is the fun one.

I bet you'll never guess their favorite baseball team.
John has a job that requires him to work long hours, mostly evenings. He is usually around in the mornings though and he always makes the best of the time he has with us.

We didn't have any pressing errands to run that morning, so I straightened up one room while Henry and Elise destroyed another. And then we switched.

After getting the kids ready, I attempted to take my bi-weekly shower. Ok, ok, I take more than 2 showers a week. Sometimes I take 3.
And now I'm really cursing my self for not doing this before she woke up!

I finally managed to distract Elise with some toys. And by "toys" I mean all my hair accessories under my sink.


I finally wrangled the kids outside to avoid any other mishaps. Jack and Daddy returned from their morning adventure and John headed off to work.

I forgot to take pictures at lunch, but it went something like this:

Me: What do you guys want for lunch? (BIG MISTAKE)



Elise: GAH BAH GAH!!

Me: Oh, actually, all we have is peanut butter.


Me: What if I cut the peanut butter sandwich into chicken nugget shapes?

Kids: OK!!

Then, naptime. Glorious naptime.
Yes, there is an actual child in that crib. No, I did not put him to bed like that.

Shortly after naptime THIS happened. NAIL POLISH. EVERYWHERE.

OH...MY...I JUST...I CAN'T...I DON'T EVEN...!!!

Elise knocked a bottle of nail polish off the bathroom sink and it shattered on the tile. So much for my bath mats. So much for my bathROOM.

I wiped up what I could, but quick-dry polish is NO JOKE. Nail polish remover was not even making a dent. This mess was going to take HOURS to clean up. So I did the only thing I could think of...

I took a picture and stuck it on Facebook. My favorite caption suggestion: COVER(your floor)GIRL. (Thanks +Stephanie Wheeler !)

COVER(your floor)GIRL

Then I left the mess, threw the kids in the car and picked up some take-out.

We opted for a picnic on the front lawn because it's summer and you're supposed to have picnics in summer. And also because our house smelled a little like a nail salon.

Upside of a picnic: easy clean-up. 
Downside: instead of getting up from the kitchen table 19 times, I run in and out of the house 19 times. 

And then, after baths and jammies, Daddy came home.
I put the baby to bed around 8:00pm and began BATHROOM CLEAN-UP 2014

I think I may have found the one task that is even more frustrating than putting the boys to bed.

I could hear John in the next room, attempting to tuck the boys in for the night.
"Daddy, I want water. Cold water. With ice."
"Daddy, you forgot to say prayers!"
"Daddy, I want MOOOOMMY!"
"Daddy, why is pee pee yellow? I wish mine was orange."

Finally, FINALLY, as midnight approached, our floor was white again. As long as you don't look too close.

And I was finally, FINALLY off to bed. 

I needed to get some rest.

I had another perfectly messy, beautifully ordinary day ahead of me tomorrow.