Chicago Trip!

 This past weekend we went on a whirlwind trip to Chicago, our first visit back since we moved (one year ago this past Monday!) Ben earned a day off of work through a test he took so he was glad to have a brief break:)

We were totally unprepared for the emotions that hit us when we got really close and started seeing familiar exits, etc. We left broken last year. We were sent off by loving friends in various places, all hoping we would find peace and healing. And we have…and are but sometimes experiences or memories can open up a little of the rawness. And that’s what happened for Ben and I. I felt increasingly anxious and Ben couldn’t even face the thought of driving through Hyde Park, even to show our kids where they once lived.

So we stopped (or kept driving anyways) and said a prayer and just felt that God was with us. The anxiety was lifted off and we decided to just trust that He was with us and just to be ourselves for the weekend. 

You know you’re getting close to Chi-town when gas prices start rising! We left with gas prices hovering around $2.80 and found them up to $3.59 in Chicago. Ouch! Now there’s a painful memory:) haha.

One of our main goals for the trip was to keep promises to the boys and to let them have some time with friends. Samuel, especially, missed his two best friends (the middle two) so very much this past year. I emailed back and forth with their moms the week before we left and made plans for them to hang out. Another friend was able to join at the last minute and they all got to hang out for a bit and then go bowling! It seriously made Samuel’s weekend to get to reconnect with them. The boys were crowded at the front door when we pulled up and they all yelled, “Samuel!!!” So happy to brighten our guy’s life:)

We let Mr Z hang out with the boys for a little bit at the house but then we made the executive decision to take him and E out and let Samuel have friend-time. We found an old favorite restaurant, “Smashburger,” that we discovered not long before we left and split a couple burgers between the four of us. Yum!

E chose to sit with her daddy:)

And Mr Z was happy to sit with me!! Then we went and browsed through a bookstore briefly until it was time to pick Samuel up. After getting Samuel, we drove straight to our friends’ house where we were staying. They are an older couple that took us under their wing that last year and were such a blessing to us! They made us feel so welcome this weekend and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with them! We spent Friday night just catching up with them:)

On Saturday, they took us to our old church, which was hosting a Family Fun Day. It was HOT outside and really humid so we lathered up with sunscreen, put hats on and prepared to have fun. I started to realize, as we kept seeing people we knew, that the weekend was becoming more about putting some healing pieces into place and seeing people from church, people who were instrumental in caring for us last year.

We didn’t get to see other long-time friends, unfortunately, but we know there will be other times to soak up friendship with them!

Mr Z got a Zebra balloon made:)

Samuel got a really funny hat!

 All three happy with their balloons!

There was face-painting, of course! Samuel had the funny idea of getting sunglasses and a mustache painted on:)

We called him, “The Evil Mustachio!”

He made us laugh with this face!

Eliana was SOOO tired but she waited patiently in line, almost falling asleep on Ben’s shoulder, to get her face painted.

She got a sparkly purple bunny on her forehead:)

Poor Mr Z waited in line the whole time hoping to get Bugs Bunny painted on the side of his face, only to have the stressed face-painter snap at him that she didn’t have time to do it. She was so short and rude with him, giving him no time to come up with a second idea, that she left him in tears. He does not cry the way he did for several minutes after we left the tent. My heart absolutely broke for him. Doing things like that are out of his comfort zone and take him a lot of courage and to be shot down as rudely as he was, was totally uncalled for. He refused to go back up and try again with the other lady. Later, when I told our friends what happened, Mr Chuck went up and had a few words with the lady and brought back apologies for Zakkai. He perked up a bit after that but it took him a little while to recover. He has such a tender heart!

Eliana in the bounce house!

On a little train ride!

E had so much fun bouncing (that’s Samuel on the left! ha) that she dissolved into tears when they had to close it down and she had to come out. Can we say…tired?! We stayed for the concert just for a bit and then we were all so hot and tired, that we left early.

Eliana playing with Bella, Mr Chuck and Miss Sally’s dog. The sweetest dog ever! She is a lap dog and loves to come snuggle with you. Perfect and gentle for kids!

The next morning we packed up all our stuff and prepared to go to the service at our old church. Miss Sally snapped a few pictures of our Lovelies!

Our Family! We so enjoyed going to church. Through the weekend, we saw every person (except one) from church that we wanted to see and connect with, so that was a big blessing. I walked into the building and just felt like it was “home.” It’s SO hard to find a new church and settle in and I really miss that feeling of belonging.

We said goodbye to Chuck and Sally at church (very hard!) and then went to lunch with another family that we had gotten to know last year. They have two boys, one Z’s age and one a teenager. (The nicest teenager I have ever met in my life!!!) Their youngest was one of the boys Zakkai wanted to see, so that made me happy that he got some time in. We met at a funny little restaurant in our old neighborhood and spent a good hour and a half just catching up and talking. It was a nice way to end our trip!

So hard to believe that we lived here for 9 years and that we don’t anymore! Wow.

Oh look, our favorite part of the trip! Not…..

Seriously, the most exciting thing you see on the trip from Chicago to Columbus. The windmills! There is a section of hundreds of them and everyone likes to look at them. Apparently, we are easily amused;)

For a long time, everyone was happy with their books on tape! So glad I got those from the library!

Eliana showing me hers:)

Samuel:)

Mr Z gets stuck in the back because S gets carsick. He didn’t seem to mind, though, as he had full control of the DVD player while the audiobook was on:) He’s our techy-guy!

And this…..is what happens when you drive late into the night after a busy weekend!! Haha! I snapped this right as we pulled in the driveway. About 20-25 min before we got home, E was just exhausted and falling apart a bit so we leaned back all seats and told them to rest. She loved the idea of her seat going back and within a few minutes, was out like a light!!

Not the safest position for driving (I know!) but pretty funny. It was only for the last 20 minutes and since she was quiet, I didn’t care! We carried her right up and she never even stirred!

We were all exhausted on Monday. I mean, down to the bones exhausted. The boys have VBS this week and I got them there, did a little grocery shopping and it hit me like a ton of bricks! I could barely function the rest of the day! We saw this beautiful rainbow on the way to TKD Monday night. We got all the way there and found out it was cancelled and I have to say, I didn’t mind! I got everyone fed and in bed as quickly as I could! Feeling much more like ourselves now, despite a super busy week.

B and I are very thankful for a good trip “home” to Chicago. It’s hard to put into words what we felt by being there but it was good for us. And hopefully, the painful memories will be less sharp each time we go and we can instead remember God’s grace and goodness to us while we were there.

We have so many blessings, in the form of well-loved friends, to go back and see!

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Recipes!

I haven’t shared any delicious recipes in awhile and I was just positive that you needed some, am I right? Right!

First up is a dinner recipe : Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Chicken and Quinoa Soup. I have never ever been a sweet potato fan but since this winter, I have been developing a whole new appreciation for them! Especially in soups:) They are delicious and good for you! The only thing I didn’t add was the chicken, as we only eat meat one to two times a week. We didn’t miss it! The texture is so not soup but rather “stew” like. I was admittedly a little worried about if it would turn out, as my last crockpot quinoa recipe was a total gloppy disaster. No worries with this one, it was done perfectly in 4 hours and a hit! Served with homemade wheat bread.

Next is Strawberry Pie! You may have seen my delicious picture of my beautiful pie from my last post and if you missed it…well, you’d better go look! I added a thin cream cheese layer because it keeps the crust from becoming soggy, plus it’s delicious! I combined 3 different recipes to make my own combo.


Strawberry Pie with Cream Cheese Layer

Pie Shell (store bought if you must, homemade if you can!)
2 lbs strawberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 TB cornstarch
1/3 c water
1 tsp vanilla
1 (8oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
3-4 TB sugar
1 1/2 TB milk

Preparation:
1. Make your pie shell. Or take it out of the box. Bake it per directions and cool. I baked mine on 400 for 12 min with beans in the shell. Then took the beans out, pricked it with a fork and baked it another 6.

2. While pie shell is baking, wash and dry strawberries and cut off hulls. Take 1 1/2 cups of the strawberries and puree them. Slice the rest and set aside.

3.Combine puree, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 TB cornstarch and 1/3 cup water in a medium saucepan and whisk. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute and remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and whisk steadily while mixture cools down; approx. 5 minutes.

4. Beat cream cheese, 3-4 TB sugar (depending on preference of sweetness) and 1 1/2 TB milk in a small bowl until smooth. Spread on bottom and a tiny bit up sides of cooled pie crust. Arrange sliced strawberries over the cream cheese layer. Pour strawberry syrup over the top, covering all the berries.

5. Cool in fridge for at least 2 hours before serving. Enjoy!!

I was going to post another picture of it just for your enjoyment (and mine) but alas, blogger is once again not cooperating. So go look at the last post!

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We are headed to Chi-town this weekend for a quick little visit with a few friends. We can’t fit in all the visits we want because it’s a short trip but it will still be fun and it will give us an excuse to go again! My main priority was keeping our promise to the boys to go back and visit and let them see friends…especially Samuel, who left behind 2 best friends. Thankfully, both boys were available and their moms and I have been working out some fun plans for them when we arrive on Friday!

And next weekend, we go camping! Woohoo!


We made it!

We made it. It has been 6 days of crazy chaos where we pretty much never stopped. I can’t even describe the last 3 days to you! Except that….I will, of course:) After I get a good night’s rest.

So, Budget decided to send us the biggest truck they had because they felt like it! No extra charge:) We had plenty of room! We got rid of so much stuff in this past month but we still had plenty to put in the truck. Darn it! Guess we need to do some more purging!

 

Ben and I got up at 6 am this morning (the kids were already in Ohio) and finished the last bits of cleaning (we spent 8 hours cleaning yesterday after packing up the truck!) and packed up all the last minute things. It still took us 2 hours so we didn’t get on the road until just after 8 am. Ben, a former CDL class B license holder drove this monster of a truck like a pro! Seriously, wow! (side note: Happy Father’s Day, Ben! I got you this really huge truck to drive and an expensive one way ticket to Ohio!! It will be a memorable one for you!:)

I have had a hard time processing all of this and have been so focused on getting everything done that I haven’t let my guard down enough to feel the emotion of this change. I started to feel it after we said goodbye to our best friends in Chicago on Friday night. We drove home and it started to hit me what we are doing and who we are leaving behind. But today, closing the door to our home for the last time was hard. I had a book on tape to listen to in the car as I followed our Monster Truck but I just needed to drive in silence for a bit and do some praying and just feeling.

I don’t think it will fully hit me until we have a place of our own. For now it just feels like we are visiting like we always do. (except for the fact that all of our earthly possessions just got loaded into a storage unit!)

 
I was very bad (I know!) and snapped a couple blind shots of the skyline as we drove by…
 
 
Goodbye for now, Chicago. I promise to write you a better tribute when I unpack my brain….

It Matters.

As you know, it has been a tough year for us with struggles and disappointments and a lot of unknowns. We have spent a lot of time on our knees praying (literally sometimes), there have been many tears and dark days and faint glimmers of hope. Lots of love and prayers and support from the people we love the most.

We have finally come to a really difficult and painful decision in these past few days. We are moving back to Ohio. For now. There can be no promises about our future. We have no idea what we will be doing there or where we will be living, at the moment anyways, but we do know that despite the sadness that accompanies this decision, we will be surrounded by family who love us. And that, we are so thankful for.

We left home almost 11 years ago, moving away from everything familiar to embark on this crazy adventure called graduate school. We really and truly believed that this was where God was leading us and that He was going to use it in a big way, and while the steps shifted and changed along the journey, our faith and belief in our vision didn’t waver. First the Master’s in Indiana and then onward to Chicago for the illustrious P.h.D. We had absolutely no idea what it would entail or ask of us. We were clueless to the demands and sacrifices it would bleed out of us. We didn’t know, as most people don’t, how it would change us and shape us.

If we are honest, both of us would probably tell you at the moment that if we could go back again, we aren’t sure we would do this again. The cost has been high. We have to believe, though, that the original desire to pursue this in honor of God matters. We have to believe that He can make beauty from ashes. We have to believe that He can take the scraps of the mess that is us and mold it into something useful, worthy or beautiful, even if scarred.

We aren’t going to Ohio with the “dream job.” That notion shattered somewhere along the way these past 3 years, the final blow being Scotland. We aren’t sure what these past 10+ years meant or how God will use them. We are just hanging on to the hope that we matter to Him. That it matters.

It being dreams, desires, hopes, disappointments, loss, fear, struggles. All of it.

We have a mere 5 1/2 weeks left here, in the place we have called home for almost 9 years. We have memories to pack up, belongings to weed through, friends to say good-bye to, a Chicago bucket list to cross off, school to finish up for the boys, and a huge, long, overwhelming list of things to do to prepare. To prepare for something we don’t know.

This is taking a lot of faith for us. To place this uncertainty of our future, our longings, our grief, our fledgling hopes, our deep desire to see Him make sense of all of this and placing it all in His hands. We humbly ask for your prayers for provision, for guidance, for protection over our family and for a deep peace as we take this next step.

It matters.

Home Sweet Home?

 Well, Good Ole Indianer failed us once again yesterday and closed most of it’s highways, namely the ones that we use to travel home, so we had to delay our trip home again. We were hesitant to travel because of the crazy cold temperatures anyways so we were glad for a very clear sign about whether or not to go.

This morning the travel news was only slightly better and we were feeling pretty frustrated because we really had to get home. We spent a lot of time early this morning mapping out a new, alternate route to get home, avoiding all of the closed highways. Instead of 6 hours to get home, it took us about 8 1/2. Needless to say, we were ALL on the cagey, cranky side by the last hour or two!!

I know I have mentioned once or ten times how much I dislike Indiana. Here is just a simple example of one of the many reasons I can think of that this state should be inhabitable. Isn’t that ugly? This would be Gary, Indiana, birthplace of Michael Jackson. It stinks (literally) and it is FILLED with factories. It is hideous.

But we were pretty ticked with Indiana today because they seriously dropped the ball with their road plowing. There was a clear difference between Ohio roads and Indy roads. We saw SO many cars off the road, stuck in ditches or almost perpendicular in huge snow banks!

We are incredibly thankful for a safe, if long trip home:)

When we arrived home, we found a huge, unshoveled heap of snow outside. In order to even unpack our car and get inside, Ben and the boys had to do a quick shovel job. Not sure where the landlords have been this past week since all the snow?? There is definitely a lot for the kiddos to play in once the temps rise!

One nice thing about our departure delay was that the boys’ school was canceled anyways the past two days so we didn’t have to worry about that. We got home at dinnertime and we’re all feeling a bit overwhelmed at jumping right back into our busy day tomorrow but we are all tucked in bed early so hopefully we’ll be ready to go!

We left my grandpa (who had to make a trip to the ER himself yesterday) looking much better and are praying for health to be restored quickly to everyone! That stomach flu was nothing to mess with. It seemed to strike in the wee hours of the morning and there was nothing we could do to stop it. No amount of cloroxing, hand-washing or quarantining helped us avoid it!

Only Ben, Zakkai and my stepdad were left standing when all was said and done. (E had her own before we left for Ohio.) Every 5 minutes we would look at the healthy (lucky) ones and say, “How are you feeling? Okay? How’s your stomach?” We were all panicking at the slightest twinge or pain in our stomachs!

Hopefully that was it for the winter. One can hope! Samuel is having a hard time recovering from the stomach bug. He even threw up again Sunday night and still doesn’t have much of an appetite. Hopefully he will get back to normal soon.

All in all, it was a very strange Christmas break for many reasons, as I am sure most of our OH family would agree. But even though we were quarantined most of the time and didn’t get to see anyone or even say goodbye to pretty much everyone (so sorry to my mom, Ben’s mom, Derek, my brother in law…), we are really really thankful that we were able to be there to help my Grandma and to watch my Grandpa be reunited with her on New Year’s Day.

We were also able to see and be re-reminded of how family works together to help each other. People were jumping in left and right to help with meals, cleaning, caring for sick ones, even when barely recovered themselves. And we can always find something to laugh about later from those chaotic moments:)

 I am very thankful for my family! Goodnight from snowy COLD Chicago!

Things I have learned…

While living in the city:
(this post was totally inspired by this:http://www.rantsfrommommyland.com/2011/01/domestic-enemies-of-urban-mom.html and any mom or anyone who has lived in the city will probably totally relate!)

1. How to parallel park. Supposedly you learn this when you do driver’s ed when you’re 16. Remember those orange cones you crushed as you were weaving through them while some underpaid, really angry driving instructor sat next to you? Let me tell you, you don’t really learn how to parallel park until you live in the city and you have no garage or car port to park your nice car (or golf cart…ahem, Gma!) in. I’m getting pretty darn good at judging just how small of a space I can squeeze our van in.

2. How to ride the train/bus. Not that I am very good at it. I am still afraid when we get on the metra that one of the boys (or me) is going to fall through that gap between the train and the platform. Shudder! And how can you get used to the awful smell of bus riding? Urine, cigarette smoke, overwhelming cheap cologne. It’s really an adventure. Poor Ben has to experience it every week…

3. How to drive on/merge on the highway~Chicago style. And by that I mean, you take a deep breath and gun your engine and artfully weave your way into the oncoming traffic full of crazy, very angry, agressive, and dangerous might I add, drivers and you don’t relax til you…get home, basically:) And then you drive to…I don’t know…Ohio and you start honking like crazy at the SLOOOOOOW people who try to merge going 25 mph and then you realize you have possibly a little city road rage. Possibly.

4. How to sleep through noise. I visit my mom in the country and Ben and I lay wide awake listening to the…crickets and…the wind blowing, maybe a cow mooing. And I think, “Why is it so darn quiet out here! Where are the buses, crazy people who sing and talk to themselves at all hours, the ambulances?” And then I get used to the peaceful quiet of the country only to have it become a distant pleasant memory in my mind once I come back here….and then my country family comes to visit and lies wide awake here all night wondering what happened to their happy little cricket noises. What a life.

5. How to do laundry at a laundromat. Everything the lady said in that post is true (even the being pregnant, dragging 40 lbs of laundry and your children to the laundromat. Good times.) I was terrified of laundromats before I came here. It seemed so intimidating to drag your personal belongings into this place full of rows and rows of big hulking machines that eat your quarters half the time and to have strangers stare at you while you fold your underwear! And to try to keep your children from making a game of slamming dryer doors shut as hard as they can only to watch them bounce open again. (not that mine have done that. ahem.)

6. How to meet new people. One thing about living here is that you meet new people all the time. There are people everywhere, for heavens’ sake! The sad part is, you meet great friends and they move away allllll the time. I can’t wait to settle down someday and not have new neighbors every year!

7. How to save money. You don’t know how to save money until you don’t have any! And living in the city is EXPENSIVE! I have learned so many ways to cut down our budget until I can cut no more! I want to move somewhere cheap. And by cheap I mean not paying the same amount for rent on a small apt that people are paying for mortgages on 2 story houses!

8. How to survive. It’s been tough to live here so far away from family and having to learn to do everything ourselves the hard way. But it has caused me to grow stronger and more independent and savvy. But I still want to live closer to my family:)

9. How to be tough. Now this is the hard part (no pun intended:). You have to be tough to live here with so many different (a.k.a. crazy) people! You get besieged on all sides for money and yelled at if you don’t give it, people scream at you on busses, announce ridiculous things to the world through their bullhorns downtown that make you want to give them a piece of your mind, so many calloused, hard people. And it’s so hard to find a balance between protecting yourself (and your family) and hardening yourself a bit but also maintaining compassion for people. We often find that our guard lets down automatically once we drive out of the city. Vacation, anyone?

10. How to appreciate the “someday.” Don’t get me wrong; there are some great things about living here! The awesome museums, downtown being a quick bus ride away, meeting so many different, wonderful people, learning to be savvy….But I personally am not a city girl and I know I will really really appreciate all the things I may have later in life that are on my “someday” list. Like a dishwasher, a garage, a washer and dryer, a backyard, a house, I hope. Little things and big things!

But for now….I’m a chitown mama living in a crazy city!