A Shift in Defining Extraordinary

Our first photo as a family of three :)

Our first photo as a family of three 🙂

While the majority of my experiences on this blog have been about my experiences traveling – they all have one other thing in common – all of these experiences – whether good or bad – have been in some way, big or small, extraordinary.
When I first began writing – I swore I would remain true to my “roots of writing” and stick to travel topics and never become a “mommy blogger.”

And then I became a mom.

I had to take a hiatus from blog posting and just journal until I came to grips with the fact that I wanted to continue to write and share my stories. So while I may not be traveling as much with an infant, I am still on a journey and would love the opportunity to share my moments and days as I continue to seek something extraordinary.

All of a sudden I was a member of this group, this sorority, this incredibly exclusive club that I didn’t even know existed until a few days after giving birth to my son. After nearly 23 hours of labor, I was exhausted, overwhelmed and so weepy. What gave me strength in my first bleary eyed days of being a mother, were my voicemails, texts, facebook messages and emails from my best girlfriends and friends who I hadn’t seen in years just checking in. All notes were personal but all asked me the same question: how are you doing? And all offered the same kindness: if you need anything, I’m here for you.

You can read 100 books. A million blogs and countless message boards and still not know everything you need to know about caring for an infant or caring for yourself as your body has experienced something extraordinary? Yes. But also traumatic.
Being a member of this group has helped me adjust to life with my amazing son and am appreciative of all the other mommas checking in on me and I hope that in the future, I can be that compassionate and caring for other new moms. So to you, other moms in the club, thank you. And to those who will be moms, just know that we, as group, are here for you.

More to come on my life with a newborn as we journey through life together.

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Categories: baby, birth, family, newborns, parenting, travel | 2 Comments

Battlefields and Base Ball Fields

Driving out of Washington DC was nothing short of a traffic nightmare. The drive to Gettysburg was only supposed to take 90 minutes but it took us closer to three hours. My co-pilot who had formerly been handing me Twizzlers, fell asleep. Bored  (because I had no one to talk to), hungry (because someone stopped feeding me Twizzlers), exhausted (from a whirlwind tour of DC) and frustrated (because of the unbearable traffic) I turned up my radio and belted out some classic Disney tunes (secretly and petulantly trying to wake my navigator).

As we neared Gettysburg, the traffic thinned, the speed limit dropped to 55 and the highway went down to two lanes. We drove through gently rolling hills and upon crossing the Maryland-Pennsylvania state line, the sky turned a dark shade of gray. It wasn’t raining but it wasn’t not raining. There was a heavy mist, so thick that at 2 in the afternoon, my headlights came on and I had to turn on my windshield wipers. On our way to the hotel, we drove through battlefields, lined with wooden fences – the mist casually, eerily hung on top of the fences, with the occasional vulture perched on top.

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We arrived at the wonderful Wyndham hotel of Gettysburg. We were warmly greeted by the staff at the front desk, checked in, took the elevator to the third floor, dropped our bags and fell into the white, fluffy, cloud-like bed.

Matt (my husband) plays in an 1860’s Base Ball club with the Royal Oak Wahoos. When his team was invited to the festival this July, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to travel (thanks to Wyndham and Women on Their Way) and he couldn’t say no to being immersed in history for an entire weekend.

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Following our nap, we headed out to check in for the festival and wanted to explore the charming downtown. We landed at Gettysburg Eddie’s– a baseball themed restaurant and host to the weekend’s festival. It was busy but well worth the wait. We devoured our meals; mine: the best fettuccine alfredo with shrimp and broccoli I’ve ever had, Matts – was apparently less memorable because neither of us remember what he ate – only remembering how good it was. The staff was friendly and quick and as we rolled our stuffed bellies out the door, we stumbled upon a walking tour – a historical ghost tour of the town of Gettysburg.

Our guide was a retired Fire Fighter from New York City. He played the part of a Gettysburg farmer from the 1860s. He stayed in character, led us through the town with an authentic lantern and gave us chills with every story he told- he told it with such authority that it was as though he had experienced firsthand. We hung on every word – cautiously looking behind us for signs (or crossing our fingers for no signs) of the paranormal. We heard stories of soldiers and Gettysburg citizens, homes that were haunted, bridges that hid the spirits of confederate soldiers trying to get back south and saw remnants of bullet holes from guns shot 149 years ago.

The next morning we got ready for the base ball (it was two words in 1860) tournament. The clouds hung heavy in the sky, threatening rain on the first game for the Wahoo Base Ball Club of Royal Oak in the Gettysburg 3rd Annual Vintage Base Ball Festival. But we stayed dry.

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Fourteen base ball clubs from the Midwest and East Coast competed in the gentlemanly game of 1860’s base ball at Hickory Hollow Farms; they pitch underhand, don’t wear gloves and wear period uniforms. The hitter is called the striker, the catcher – the behind, the pitcher – the hurler. They say things like, “Well struck, Sir,” when the ball is hit well and “Huzzah” when someone “tallies an ace” (scores a run). They mind their manners and except for the occasional disagreement – they act like perfect gentlemen. It’s base ball from a simpler time – in its truest form.

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The Royal Oak Base Ball Club has been around since 2004, founded by Jon “Preacher” Miller and Tim “Flash” Gorman. Every gentleman in the club has a nickname attributed to his career or hobby. It is truly a joy to watch base ball the way it was played back then.  The Wahoo’s had a perfect record at the end of the festival – they didn’t win a single game – but it can be agreed upon that every member of the club had the experience of a lifetime. And as for me, Innkeeper’s wife, I couldn’t be more proud to have been able to be a crank (spectator) at this incredible festival.

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“Happy Birthday”

 

For some reason hummingbirds have always reminded me of my grandma (my mom’s mom) who passed away just over two years ago. I have this vivid image of her, one Christmas, wearing a gray, crew-neck sweatshirt with a hummingbird on it. It may have been her only one – but it is emblazoned in my mind that she loved the little bird and every article of clothing she had was adorned with a hummingbird.

That being said, every time I see one, I think of her. A few months ago, I was with my mom in San Francisco and we went on a wine tour of Napa Valley.  At our very last winery, tired and tipsy, we wandered into the vineyard. Off to the side was this giant flowering bush and I saw something flutter. It took me no longer than a nano-second to realize it was a hummingbird; and how appropriate, on this mother-daughter vacation on Mother’s Day weekend, (almost two years to the day of her death) to feel the presence of my grandmother in the form of this tiny bird.

~the winery hummingbird~

Now, more than ever the two are linked: the memories of my grandma to the image of the hummingbird. So it is no surprise to me that when I spent the day at my parents’ Lake House in Port Sanilac, MI that a hummingbird graced us with her presence there as well.

Every summer, the women on my mom’s side of the family, get together to celebrate their summer birthdays. Having a birthday in March excluded me from this intimate gathering until this year when I had the day off work, a need to get away to the country, and a desire to finally swim in Lake Huron; one of Michigan’s Great Lakes.

~lake huron~

After our first venture into the icy, (50 shades of) blue, water, we sat on the deck to dry in the hot Michigan sun. There, while toweling off, I caught my first glimpse of the Lake House hummingbird. We collectively gasped, smiled and in unison pointed to the spot where she had been. She zipped up to the feeder and I scrambled to capture her on film memory card. She was fast and sneaky. And I missed her. But I was patient.

After filling our bellies with hot fudge cream puffs with Sander’s hot fudge (a Michigan specialty) we sat back on the patio, looking out on the gorgeous lake. Camera poised, the hummingbird came back and was ready for her photo shoot.

 

~so still~

 

The small moments of seeing this hummingbird with the women in my family (the women who have helped shape, support and encourage me – and the rest of my cousins) who represent everything good and brave and inspiring, was an incredible gift.

At the summer birthday party, my grandmother was present. Maybe she was saying hello – maybe she just wanted us to know she was always watching, protecting, loving us. Maybe she wanted to say she’s proud of us and that she misses us too. Or maybe, just maybe, she wanted to say, “Happy Birthday.”

~happy birthday~

 

 

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Perspective Gained

By the time I was in twelve, I had moved six times with my family. I had always hated it growing up but now, it’s what I attribute to my love of travel and inability to stay in one place for too long.

When my husband and I got engaged we were both living in Missouri – about five hours apart. I was in the incredible city of Saint Louis – amazing restaurants, a rich history, The Arch, life. I loved living there – there was always something to do.

Matt lived in Maryville. Podunk compared to Saint Louis. It’s a small rural town, in the middle of nowhere, just south of Iowa in the northwest corner of the state – home to the Northwest Missouri State University Bearcats. There’s a movie theatre, three really good restaurants and a bowling alley. When I visited it for the first time, I thought, this is cute but never imagined living there for close to three years.

But we did. At times it was frustrating that the nearest Target was 45 miles away and the nearest DSW was in Kansas City. It drove me crazy that Caribou coffee wasn’t just a 15 minute drive. I hated being 12 hours from Detroit – my “hometown.”

We moved back to Michigan during the summer of 2010 and were relieved to be back in “civilization”: Starbucks every mile, two Targets equidistant from my house, my dad just a call away to come over to help me install the dishwasher, old friends, convenience.

This past weekend, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to head back to Missouri with Matt to stand up in one of my best friend’s wedding.

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About ten hours into our trip, we were beginning to get a little stir crazy – we needed some fresh air and some fresh tunes. As we turned off the interstate – we got on a small state highway – twisty roads, windows down, country music turned up, farm land on either side  of us corralling us home…I mean back.

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We pulled into town and navigated the small narrow streets to get to campus, our home base for the weekend. As I was driving through campus, a car was coming toward me, so I accelerated so I could get through the rows of parked cars first, he patiently pulled to the side, waved to me and gave Matt a tip of his hat, wearing a happy smile on his face.

Where was I? Had I forgotten all my manners? Had the “big city” made me cold, selfish? This is one of the smallest things that happened to us over the weekend – but it had such an impact on me. Here, at home, when we moved into our neighborhood, full of its own narrow streets, I was appalled at how other drivers navigated them – zipping in and out of parked cars, trying to get through first, using their horn relentlessly. I was sad that no one did the friendly wave or the tip of the hat. Where were our friendly neighbors? Where was common courtesy? And now look at me, what have I become?

The idiosyncrasies of a small town are many – but the good outweigh the bad. Our first night in town – we went to dinner and saw our old colleague and it was as if two years hadn’t passed. In Detroit – we could go out to dinner ten times and not know a soul. While our families were far away – we had built a different kind of family who sincerely supported us and genuinely loved us. While I was looking for beauty in big buildings and big cities – I missed the beauty of gently rolling hills, sunsets that spanned the horizon for miles, and the gorgeous farmlands. While I frequently cursed the small town – I now curse the traffic and that it takes me an hour to get to the bank, post office and coffee shop that used to take me ten minutes on a bad day.

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I never thought I would miss Maryville – and I didn’t until we went back this weekend. An incredible town, full of our loving home-made families and very happy memories. Reflecting back on our time this weekend I am reminded of this quote from Ernest Hemingway, “never write about a place until you’re away from it, because that gives you perspective.”

 

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Wine on a Precipice

After spending the day on the beach, Matt and I drove up the winding road in search of a winery. We had heard nothing but high praise for Santorini wine and need to see, taste, rather, for ourselves.

Because the island has a prominent volcanic past, there is a lot of ash in the soil which helps protect the grape vines from predators. This also produces a wide array of flavorful wines unique to Santorini.

~city on a cliff~

We saw a sign for Santo Winery and decided to pursue it. We parked in front of a giant wooden barrel, used for grape stomping and knew we were in the right place.

We talked to the friendly barkeep and decided to do the classic tasting, which included six different wines with an assortment of bread, olives and cheeses.

~wine on a precipice~

Is it possible that the wine tasted better because we felt like we were hovering on the edge of a precipice, surrounded by the pristine white winery, highlighted with the blue sky and that sparkling Aegean sea, for what seemed to be, miles below us? Maybe. It was probably the best wine we’ve ever had.

Then something captured our attention.We caught sight of this tiny sailboat, making it’s way across the island. It was so tranquil and such a different view than the myriad of cruise ships that came in and out of the port daily. And then the sun began to set on one of the most peacefully perfect days on our trip and in our marriage and we headed back to Apanemo to get some rest.

~perfectly peaceful~

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The Feeling of Blue

With summer fast approaching I am reminded of the absolutely perfect weather that found us every day in Santorini.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am sort of a planner when it comes to traveling. I love to plan, organize. I like knowing what I am going to do every single moment of every vacation. This trip was different. It truly was going to be a vacation. And Greece is the ideal place to vacation.

We woke up to the rooster crowing just outside our window at Hotel Apanemo – a twenty-five room complex in Akrotiri, perched high up on the cliffs, on the southwest side of the island of Santorini. We descended the flight of stairs from our one bedroom apartment and stumbled upon the dining room. We drank strong coffee, enjoyed tangy Greek yogurt and savored the fresh fruit all laid out before us on a beautiful buffet, with the Aegean Sea, far below us, as the backdrop to our breakfast.

~hotel apanemo~

While sipping our coffee, Matt and I talked about how we would spend our first full day on the island. We decided to take to the beach. We checked in with Spiros, the owner of Apanemo and he recommended a quiet, black sand beach. He provided us with a tiny drawing of the island that was to serve as our road map to the beach.

We arrived at Perissa beach and paid the cashier ten euros for two umbrella-ed chairs and set up camp for the day. We came equipped with music, books, drinks and snacks. I was about to put on my headphones and then paused. The crashing of the waves was an incredible sound and I thought that hearing the Santorini waves might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, so  I opted to listen to the music of the sea instead.

~perissa beach~

The water wasn’t crystal clear –but a deep, dark blue, highlighted with accents of turquoise set against a backdrop of a most impressive, quite literal, sky blue. The day was hot but we were protected by straw umbrellas and cooled by the breeze off the water. The sand was dark – not black like I was expecting – but strange all the same to be feeling the sand between my toes and it not being soft, smooth, and light in color like the sands of Lake Michigan.

~toes in the black sand~

As the day wore on, the wind picked up and the waves grew larger and larger. White caps were now highlighting the formally smooth Aegean Sea. We decided to take a quick swim before we were (read: I was) too afraid to get in.

It was cold.

It was exhilarating.

It was so blue.

Can something feel blue? Well, this water felt blue. Immersed in color, surrounded on all sides by different hues of blue – it was unlike any other swim I’ve ever taken.

After our brief swim we decided it was time for our beach day to come to a close. We packed up and headed to SantoWines – to experience the unique wines that Santorini had to offer…but that is a different story for a different day. (tomorrow, maybe)

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Wine Vines in Napa

I am a momma’s girl, always have been. We moved around a lot when I was younger and making friends was easy for me but no one know ever knew me like my mom did. She kissed my boo-boos, was my shoulder to cry on, my sounding board and my best friend.  Still is.

When I had the opportunity to head to San Francisco for a one day Travel Blog seminar right near Mother’s Day, I thought it would be the perfect time for a girl’s weekend and possibly a side visit to wine country. We stayed four nights at the incredible Parc 55 Wydham hotel, right in the center of Union Square and the heart of downtown San Francisco.

~the heart of San Francisco~

We decided to spend one full day in wine country:Napa Valley, with four wineries on the agenda. To say that the scenery was breathtaking is an understatement. What’s the word that means absolutely gorgeous, totally unique, unspoiled? Whatever it is, that’s it.

The vines draped casually but meticulously over the trellis’ lined the gently (and infinitely) rolling hills of the Napa Valley, set against a background of the purest blue sky – unblemished by even a single cloud.  The brightly colored rose bushes strategically placed at the end of each row served as a guardian for the vines from the dangers of mold and other predators, acting like a canary in a coal mine. It was the epitome of picturesque.

chose to take a guided tour as to not have to forgo wine tasting for a designated driver. We took full advantage of Wine Country Tour Shuttle and the four wineries they introduced us to. We began the day with a quick stop at the Golden Gate Bridge.  Not even a hint of fog to spoil (or enhance – depending on your preference) the view.

~An unspoiled view of the Golden Gate~

 

The highlight of the tour was the V. Sattui Winery where we tasted seven…yes, seven different wines. Sweet, dry, red, white, sparkling, still. They were incredible and after seven pours, a bit potent. We kept getting this fear (or maybe it was advice) instilled in us – if you like a wine here, buy it, you will never find it outside Napa. So, obediantly, we placed our order for a case of wine to be shipped home, we then stumbled out of the tasting room into the deli. There were heaps of cheeses and other Napa Valley delicacies lining the walls. My mom and I, thinking it might be good to get some food in our bellies, pressed our noses up to the glass of the deli and carefully pointed to two black forest ham and gruyere Panini’s. They were grilled and then swiftly and tightly wrapped in tin foil for easy transportation.

V Sattui Winery, San Francisco, Wine Country, Napa Valley

~V Sattui Winery~

We exited the deli and sat at one of the many picnics tables and enjoyed an incredible lunch preparing ourselves for three more wineries on the tour. The scent of the hundreds of red, pink, orange and white roses was carried on the breeze and cooled our cheeks as we finished our lunch overlooking the flowering vines of the incredible Napa Valley.

~Grape Vines~

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Looking for the Tanners

We arrived! San Francisco was never on my “must visit” list but when the opportunity arose for me to participate in Wyndham’s travel writing seminar, I couldn’t pass it up.

Since my husband wasn’t able to make the trip with me, I invited the next best travel companion, my mom – and how appropriate as this Sunday is Mother’s Day.

We arrived at the airport desperate for coffee. We were on our way to the gate when my name was paged overhead. In my many years of travel this has never happened. When I listened to the rest of the page, my face turned a bright shade of crimson. I left my laptop at security. Despite that tiny hiccup the rest of the trip had been perfect.

We checked in to the amazing Parc55 hotel, located just steps away from Union Square and every store you could ever imagine: Cartier, Bloomingdales, Macys, Barneys.

Our big adventure of the day was taking the number 5 bus to Alamo Square Park. This park is home to the “painted ladies” or “postcard row.” Gorgeous Victorian homes, all lined up, on a steep incline away from the park.  We sat on a park bench, warmed by the afternoon sun, admiring them and remisincing about Full House – where the opening credits show the Tanner family playing in that very park and we wondered where Uncle Jesse, Joey, Michelle, DJ, Danny, Stephanie and Comet were…

 

~where are the tanner's~

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Moments that Make Life a Little Less Ordinary

 

It was a long day at work. A typical Monday .

It was the anniversary of my gramma’s death. No one at work knew. I wore my ring I had had made with a stone from her wedding ring and she consumed my thoughts.

She loved coffee so on my way in to work, I stopped at Starbucks and savored every sip – a quiet tribute.

After work, I got home and changed into running clothes – seeking the solitude only a run and the road can give.

It was a gray afternoon with intermittent rain but that wouldn’t keep me away. I needed time out of the house, away from work, just me, the road, my music and the soft sound of my Asics splashing through the puddles that had been pooling all day.   I was tired. Every muscle in my body begged me to stop but I carried on lost in my thoughts, my memories. I was enveloped in the melancholy of the music, the dark skies and the longing for a hug from the one woman that wasn’t able.

As I splashed through a giant puddle, I smelled something familiar. A smokey, mossy, fishy, musty, wet smell; the smell of the cottage.

When we (my brother, cousins and I) were little, we spent many a weekend up in my grandparents cottage on Glen Lake, a small beautiful  lake near Traverse City in northern Michigan. On days we weren’t swimming in the lake or trekking up Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, we walked through the woods, slathered in bug spray looking for raspberries, money plants and other treats the forest kept hidden. Days spent at the cottage were magical. We spent time with family and I remember ordinary mornings sitting on the deck, overlooking the late, eating Cap’n Crunch next to Gramma, while she drank her coffee in her quilted robe.

~glen lake~

On rainy days – we’d have to entertain ourselves and mostly found ourselves outside dodging raindrops or rooting around the old shed. The rainy smell of Up North is unique – not sure what makes it that way, perhaps the fresh air, the glacial soils, my unspoiled memories.  Whatever it is – it’s different from downstate.  That smell wafted through my run today and on any other day, I wouldn’t have noticed it. Wouldn’t have cared. Wouldn’t have paused to inhale it’s sweet, rainy, musty scent.

But at that moment – I knew that it was meant for me. It was the hug I’d been longing for all day. It was the hope in faith realized. The tears started escaping from my eyes and I let them roll down, warm on my hot, pink cheeks.

And then – as if on cue – the sky opened and it started pouring – I tasted the salty tears mixed with the cold, fresh rain.  I pressed on – running a bit slower to soak up this sort of divine intervention – this small gift.

I cherish that moment. It was a small moment out of a large, long day. I am reminded that even though she’s gone – she remains. A part of me, a part of my mom, a part of my brother, a part of my cousins. We are all shaped and molded from her and proudly so.

So today – on the anniversary of her passing from this life, I cry, laugh, reminisce and feel grateful for the time I had with her.  I look forward to the small moments that remind me she is not completely gone and the moments that make life a little less ordinary.

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One Word

At work this week, we were asked to describe ourselves using one word. This word could be anything that defines or describes us, something that explains who you are, how you are, what you value.

After careful deliberation, I threw out the losers like, clever, travel, artsy and settled on La France. (yes, technically, two words – I could have also chosen rule breaker defiant).

To explain why France is what defines me is difficult, complicated…but easy too. I’d taken French since middle school and had always been in love with France. I don’t ever remember deciding to study abroad. It was not a big decision in my life. I didn’t weigh the pros and cons. I didn’t wonder how I would get along overseas. I didn’t even think about where I would sleep, where I would study, how I would eat, how I would take out the trash….(most people probably don’t think about that one either – keep reading).

So, when I started my junior year at Central Michigan University, I went to the Study Abroad fair, picked up an application, was accepted a few weeks later and in February, I was at Detroit Metro Airport ready to fly to Paris. Alone.

It dawned on me at the airport that I was going abroad for five months. Alone. Holy Crap!

I was numb. My chin quivered, as it always does when I hold back tears. As I remember it now, it was foggy, hazy, blurry. I said goodbye to my parents and went through security in an almost dreamlike trance.

~chateau d'angers~

My first few weeks in Angers, ninety minutes southwest of Paris, were the hardest days of my life. My host family was nice but I was a business transaction; a tenant in one room of their home.

~my home in Angers~

I was very shy. I walked on eggshells around the house. I didn’t eat meals with the family, I didn’t ask for anything. I didn’t understand anything. I was so homesick – even writing about it now, I remember the weight of that unbearable feeling – so far from anything familiar.

I cried myself to sleep every night for the first weeks. I would sneak to the kitchen after everyone was asleep and drink water out of the faucet in the tiny kitchen. I ate food out of the vending machines at school or would buy food from the grocery store and hide it in my room. Then I would take the trash with me to school and throw it away in the bathroom because I didn’t know where to put it at the house. It sounds silly now, but I was painfully shy and every moment felt awkward and uncomfortable.

~the kitchen~

After four weeks, I planned a visit to my friend who was studying in another town in France. We decided to meet in Lyon. I got on the train, by myself. I got to Lyon, alone. I had to ask where the metro was to get to the hotel. I had to ask someone where to buy a metro ticket. I had to ask directions to the hotel. I had to.

When I saw the hotel sign, I dropped my bag in the street and I cried. But these tears were different. I did it. A seemingly small and insignificant event: I made it from Angers to the train station, to the metro, to the hotel. I accomplished something. I did it. What else could I do, I wondered.

This was the turning point in my experience. After a weekend with a good friend who encouraged me to speak French without thinking too much, I was refreshed. She built me up and boosted my confidence. I felt more self-assured. I had a positive experience behind me that would propel me until the next one. And it did. I started to be a bit more outgoing; I started eating some meals with my host family, I forced myself to watch TV with them and I finally asked what to do with my trash.

Categories: France, Photography, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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