Thursday, May 21, 2009

Return to the Indoor Playground

On Saturday, we went to the Indoor Playground together for the first time since Greg deployed last year. Andrew and Elijah especially had been looking forward to it for a long time, so there was much excitement.

Here's Lavella, serenading us on our way there:

There were some new inflatable things to climb on, and the go-cart track had been extended, which was a nice surprise. Andrew and Elijah are old enough now to each drive their own, which was cool for them.

Elijah was a bit of a hazard to other drivers, since he NEEDED to be in front, and got pretty good at managing the curves and getting around people. Although he seemed to think it was more of a bumper-cars situation than any of the other people on the track.

Andrew did very well, except that he kept getting caught in this one corner.

This is what happens when you run out of your token-time mid-track.

There are a bunch of very big slides, but this one was just right for Lavella.

...And Greg.

For the first half-hour or so, it was fun to watch everyone else have fun. However, this little fussy dude did not want to take a nap, so eventually I got tired of this.

Greg came and relieved me so that I could play with the boys on the inflatable climbing stuff. I've never really played at this playground any of the times we've gone, because I always have a nursing baby to hold or am pregnant. It was fun to be able to just bounce around like crazy for a little while.

Jonah, apparently, stopped being fussy as soon as I walked away. It was all a show, because this is how he was looking at Greg.

After this, he fell asleep and took a nap. What a little pip.
Lavella's favorite part was the ball pool.

(There are actually several, but this one is the one she spent the most time in.)

She kept positioning this rubber bouncing/riding toy on the rim of this play-box, and bounce/falling in. It was ridiculous. Don't take my word for it though, see for yourself.

Oh whoops, no, that was the show that Greg went to later on that night.

OK, here's Lavella for real this time.

It's short, but I could seriously watch that one on loop all day. Greg and I were almost crying we were laughing so hard when we watched this together last night.

Here's a longer jump sequence.

For even more photos (because, you know, this one just didn't have enough), you can click through to the photo gallery, here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Catching up

NOTE: this post contains copious pictures and catch-up news. Apparently life keeps clipping right along, even when you (I) take a little internet-break! Since I've been on a bit of a hiatus for the past week-and-a-half, I am terribly behind on emails and such, so please forgive me if you're waiting on a response. If I don't get back to you within a few days, and it was important, please email me again.

Thank you, everyone, for your outpouring of love and congratulations via comments, phone, and email. As a family, we are so delighted to be back together again. Although Greg has been home less than two weeks, we have slipped comfortably back into normal life, almost as if he'd never left. The children are bigger, and I feel some small differences in myself -- an independence and ability to make decisions in a way I never did before -- but Greg is more relaxed than he ever was, and the transition is going smoothly. From what I've heard from many other families, this reintegration is supposed to be tough stuff, but...I truly have nothing juicy to spill. We are together, and we are happy. Good times.

After a year of having the children to myself, it's wonderful to see them with Greg.

Jonah already looks at Greg like he knows he's someone special. He's a generally cheerful little guy, but he reserves special looks of total adoration for the select few. And Greg is one of them.

For Mother's Day, Greg took me out to a nice restaurant nearby, run by a 3-star chef. (Well, OK, actually I booked the babysitter, picked the restaurant, chose the time, and programmed the GPS to get us I suppose I took him out. No matter.)

We had a fantastic dinner that included a salad, decorated with a lush slab of foie gras (to the far left):

A tender, rare steak (both rare-cooked, and rare in the sense that it's nearly impossible to find a decent steak here in Germany. This restaurant also happens to have it's own butcher though, so for them anything is possible), and local white asparagus:

(Greg got a fish entree, although I didn't manage to shoot that)

And a beautiful dessert ensemble which incuded a nutmeg Panna Cotta and a vanilla Crème brûlée:

This week, Lavella received her birthday gift from Hannah:

She loves it, and it's been in almost constant play since it was opened. Thank you!

Another package arrived from my parent's house -- this one from my Dad. I had bought a bunch of summer clothing for Lavella last year on clearance at Old Navy and Wal Mart, and Lavella has now grown into that size (3T). I'd left it at my parent's house for whatever reason, so I had my dad send it here. Along with the clothing, he also threw in some of the children's favorite candy, which they were very excited about.

"Thank you Grandpa!!!"

My parents also gave Lavella and I Amazon gift certificates via email, which I've finally cashed in, so those will be arriving in the next week or so (mail to Germany is a little slow.)

While we're on the topic of birthdays: I also got my birthday present from Hannah a few days ago. She and I have birthdays only 2 weeks apart, and traditionally never get each-other gifts on time (why? I could not tell you. But I don't think we've ever been even close to on time).

Hannah called me a few days after my birthday this year, wondering what I wanted. I, of course, pointed her to my Amazon wishlist, and also mentioned gift certificates at The Loopy Ewe or Spunky Eclectic. Apparently, those are all boring suggestions. Then I mentioned that perhaps she could contact either Amy (Spunky Eclectic) or David (Southern Cross Fibre), (two online shops I frequent with such regularity that I have become friends with the owners and they know what I like), and she could have one of them put something together for me. She liked this idea, because it could still be a surprise, of sorts.

So, a few days ago: SURPRISE!

The funniest thing was reading Hannah's (mildly sarcastic) greeting in Amy's handwriting.

Thank you THANK YOU to both Hannah and Amy for putting together such a great birthday package for me. I'm going to have a lot of fun with this!! (To the fiber-curious among you: this will be used to blend batts for spinning.)

(Oh, and Hannah, I promise I'll send your birthday gift soon. As soon as I decide what it is.)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Welcome home, my love

Yesterday morning I got a call that Greg had landed safely at a nearby Airforce base, and was on a bus headed for our post here in Southern Germany. (We had expected him later on in the month, but he managed to make it back with the ADVON/advanced party.) The Welcome Home Ceremony was scheduled for 11:15 in the morning, so I packed the children up (along with backpacks full of little toys and sandwiches in case things ran long). The children were more fussy and wild than usual -- excited and emotional all at once. I felt the same. We arrived at the location just early enough to get seats, and then waited.

And waited.

And waited.

A little after the supposed start time (these things never actually start on time, so this was expected), a woman went to the front, grabbed an echo-ey mic, and began to rev up the crowd. Elijah was none-too-pleased; after every group chant of "OPEN THE DOORS!!!", he would turn to me and say "OK, so where's Daddy?"

The waiting was hard on me too. After all of this time, all of the waiting, the struggles, the constant effort to keep our family connected across the miles, and the life we'd lived alone, we were now seated with a huge crowd, waiting together for our men and women to be returned to us.

I felt, to an extent, resentful that I had to share the moment with so many. I feared that the raucous chanting, the waving hand-made signs, the hundreds of other people waiting would cheapen or detract from the tender, joyful celebration of our family becoming whole again.

I needn't have worried. When the doors finally swung open, and we saw one single fist pumping in the air -- that of the first soldier through the entryway -- the entire crowd erupted in wild, deafening applause. It was a roar of voices and a thunder of pounding feet; unbridled joy, completely unmasked, like that of a child's, unrestrained.

In that moment, there was no thought to the people around us, the 13 months we've been apart, the 45 minutes we'd sat in the gym waiting. There were only tears, and screams, and a release of overflowing thankfulness.

I couldn't hold back my tears as I scanned each face of the returned soldiers, searching for the one most precious to me, to us.

After a remarkably brief prayer by the chaplain, they released our soldiers from formation, and the crowd exploded again -- the two groups of people rushing at each other, loved ones falling into each others arms.

I stood high in the bleachers, waiting for Greg to find us, and at last, through the scattered crowds, saw him making his way towards us.

I cannot describe our first kiss, and I won't try. Even now, the memory of holding his face in my hands in that moment makes my heart feel full to bursting, and my face once again salty with tears.

Andrew, upon seeing Greg at last, began to cry as well. He was so overwhelmed with emotion, that it took about an hour before he could really talk with Greg without breaking all to pieces.

Lavella immediately climbed into Greg's arms, and we gathered close together; our family, whole again.

To each dear family member and friend who have stood beside our family from near or far: for your thoughts and prayers, for your emails and phone calls, your online companionship. Your support has meant so much to me. Thank you for all of the love you've shared with us, and for just being there though times both peaceful and full of hope, as well as the darker times of loneliness we've lived through in this past year. With your help and God's strength, we not only survived it, but we've thrived.

Together again, we now face the new challenge of reintegrating as a family; I am confidant, hopeful, excited.

The woman who took this picture for us handed me back my camera and said "It's over. It's really over. You did it. You made it through this entire deployment, and it's all over." As her words sunk in, I could hardly compose myself. Even now, it seems impossible that it really is over. That I only have to play the part of "Mommy" now, and I no longer have to make things work on my own. After more than a year of being strong, of managing my world, of trying to guard my heart against the pain of separation and trying not to feel too much, of staying on top of things and trying not to dream of the end or count the days, it is now All Over. I can let go. He's back. I can breathe now. Thank God, he's home.

Welcome home, my love.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A playdate and a weekend with Jonathan

One Friday out of every month, I have a group of ladies over to spin and knit, while our children play together. This past Friday, my friend Heather stayed afterwords with her children so that we could spend the day together.

Her 1-1/2 year-old, Ezra, reminds me of an older version of Hannah's baby, Isaiah (something about his physique). Here Ezra is, trying to break into a hair salon with my set of keys. (Photos by Heather)

Jonah has started giving me kisses. Well, he seems to think he's kissing. It feels a little more like he's trying to eat my face. (Pictures also by Heather)

Lavella, Ezra and Elijah pushed Heather's 4-year-old Stella around in our umbrella stroller (which was given to us by Chris -- thanks again for that!)

Stella is crazy about Jonah, and always wants to hold him. It's very cute.

Us moms gave the children dinner at around 5, and then Jonathan (who was coming for the weekend) arrived at 8. We gave him dinner, but the children were very anxious to get to dessert, which we'd put off until his arrival. I had made a belated birthday cake for Jonathan (he turned 24 on April 12th), and they were very excited about it. We stuck a candle in his dinner so that we could sing Happy Birthday right away.

Lavella was once again offended by the lit candle.


This is the "cake" I made -- it's actually the Chocolate Caramel Tart from the cover of last month's Saveur magazine.

Chocolate butter-cookie-like crust, caramel, dark chocolate ganche, garnished with gray sea salt. Yes, it is just as good as it looks. Better, even. The only change I made to the recipe was to use a tablespoon of sour cream instead of the crème fraîche called for. (I didn't have any on hand, and didn't feel like getting the children packed up to go to the store just for that.) It turned out perfectly, so I can recommend that substitution with confidance.

If you've never tried salted caramel, or salt with sweet, you must. The salt somehow complements the sweetness, and the little bit of crunch is just perfect for the gooey texture of this tart.

After dinner/dessert, we put all of the children to bed, and Heather, Jonathan and I visited for a while; I wove and Heather spun.

It was strange but lovely to be able to visit without the constant interruptions of little people. I don't think that Heather and I have ever visited without them, actually.

After a lovely day, Heather packed up her sleepy children and went back to her house. (Her husband's away for a little bit with military related stuff.)

Jonathan stayed the weekend with us.

We weren't able to get a Proper Picture of him with my children, but here's a wrestling match they had.

And of course, we can't leave Jonah out. Here he is just after a bath, irresistibly squishy, hanging out with Jonathan.

Jonathan stayed until tonight; he left after dinner. We had a lovely weekend and we're so glad that he could visit!