Family Matters

Readers, I’ve missed you. I hope you’ve missed us. It’s been four whole days! But we’ve been busy as ever doing a whole lot of not a lot with family. But when you’re with family, it all feels very busy and very exhausting, right? In the best way, of course!

You’ll find us today where you left us last time, Rockford, Illinois. We’re still at Grammy’s, and we’re scheduled to be here for about 5 more days, so we’ve still got some social calls to make and a few more local restaurants to check out. Tomorrow is Chicago, and I’ve never been, so I’m very excited to hit the windy city!

But let’s back up for a hot minute. We rolled into town late on a Wednesday night, as I watched my meeting back in Nevada from my laptop via my hot spot. What a world we live in. Thursday morning, we woke up early because Thomas had to drive our dear old Grammy to her eye appointment. The doctor’s office was on the other side of Rockford.

I have to tell you that my idea of the Midwest was a whole slew of small towns with a few Chicago’s and St. Louis’ mixed in. Well, Rockford is really not a small town. Perhaps those who are from here would say that it is, or that it feels that way in the very least, but it’s dang near a city if you ask me. And I’ve hardly done much exploring!

So a trip across town to drop and pick up Grammy, was most of the morning. I held down the fort and bathed and fed the kids. Doing the whole bathing and feeding game in a real kitchen with a real bathtub, is such a luxury! I’ll have to remember not to take that for granted. And the continued ability to do laundry, whenever I so please… another luxury! The road, although fun and full of adventure, is a GREAT way to gain perspective. Man, a shower doesn’t feel so good as it does when I’m not wearing flip flops.

Our first full day here, aside from the doctor run, was a day off. We started laundry that still isn’t fully complete. We cleaned the camper out- sweeping, mopping, sheets washed kind of cleaning- and we did a few repairs. We haven’t been able to get the hot water heater to work, which isn’t the end of the world in most cases, but does make it harder to wash the kids, and so we had to address that. Thomas did a little assessing of things like trailer tires and bike rack maintenance. The dogs were able to roam and sit in the sun, as opposed to the truck. Gage was able to take a full nap outside his carseat. We pulled out all the stops- dark room, ocean sounds, blankets. We really gave him some quality rest. And he took full advantage, that sweet little love. He’s been such an amazing trooper!

After he woke up, we took the whole crew, which now includes Grammy, to the grocery store for a stock up. It seems we need these stock ups all the time, and yet it also seems like we have food coming out of our ears in the trailer. Either way, we loaded up for a few days, and headed back home to enjoy some delicious reuben sandwiches- a Cunningham favorite.

My husband takes after his father- Big Tom- in their sheer pride and determination in the kitchen. They’re very specific and everything has an exactly right way. For example, it matters if you put the cheese and then the sauerkraut, verses the sauerkraut and then the cheese. It matters if you use thousand island dressing, or if you make your own sauce. As specific as these guys are, it always amazes me how frequently they order these things at restaurants, NEVER to be remotely satisfied. Nothing ever measures up. And it’s not just reubens. It’s pizza. It’s burgers. It’s pot roast. It’s chicken. It’s fondue. It’s everything. The only saving grace, and I can appreciate this, is that they are as critical of themselves as they are of others. They’re always trying to get it just right. It’s always a work in progress.

It took me a while to adjust to eating dinner with this family when Thomas and I first started dating. Everyone reviews the dinner at the table. I, of course, have always been used to saying thank you and stomaching whatever is put in front of me. My mom was a great cook, but it wasn’t a passion. With the Cunningham men- and how fun that it’s the men who cook?- it’s a passion and a point of pride. And they are amazing cooks. From a sandwich, to a five course meal with wine pairings, it’s always above and beyond. This is why I work out.

So the reubens were delicious, needless to say.

After dinner, the kids spent another hour outside playing with the neighbor boy who is exactly one day younger than Cadence. Grammy lives in a duplex, and they live on the other side. What a wonderful babysitter a front yard can be! The big kids have spent at least 50% of their days outside, in the sun, playing. It’s exactly what I hope the rest of their days are like. Last night they watched a little of the Disney channel and I do believe that was the first bit of screen time they’ve had in a week! What a blessing!

The weather has been chilly, but sunny. The kids are running almost non-stop, so they never seem to get cold, which makes my life easy. I know they love to go sight seeing, but I’m so glad they have had the chance to settle down for a few days and just be kids.

And what makes it extra special are the pictures in the house of Ba- Big Tom (aka my father in law)- and his sisters playing in the same house and in the same yard. And then the pictures of my husband and his sisters following suit. Generations upon generations have come here to make memories.

Thomas walked into the basement and pulled out all the same trucks that he used to play with, and his father before him. My kids were so excited to see toy trucks made out of actual metal. Can you imagine such a thing? Gage immediately climbed onto one of the toy trucks, and I didn’t feel like he was even kind of capable of breaking it! I imagine that the truck has been through far worse in it’s decades of bringing joy to the kids who have come through this place.

This house is like a time capsule. From what I can tell, very little has changed over the years. I wish I had some place like this that held all the memories of my childhood. What a very special place to bring our kids. I’m enjoying all the stories so very much. I can still remember every square foot of my grandmother’s house, and all the memories that it held for me and my sister, and my mom and her brother before us. But that house was sold long ago. Thomas never got to meet any of my grandparents. He won’t ever get this kind of hands on history of me. And in some ways, I wonder if I will ever have that myself. It’s mostly all gone now.

Again, gaining perspective on how neat it is and how much I want it for my kids. Perspective helps with priorities, right?

Our second day there was a touch more adventurous. We were up early yet again- poor Grammy, she usually sleeps until around 10am- and we headed to one of the many restaurants I’ve been hearing about for a decade in the Cunningham clan. We met Aunt Pat- Grammy’s sister- at the Stockholm Inn! It’s a very unassuming place, located in a strip mall, but it’s home to the original swedish pancakes. Swedish pancakes, if you’re like me and didn’t realize, are LIKE crepes, but NOT the same as crepes. They’re thin, sweet pancakes, that are usually filled with traditional lingonberries. Crepes can be filled with savory things, as well as sweet, but ‘sweeters’- as we call them- are really only for fruit and are only for breakfast. I can’t tell you how the recipes between crepes and swedish pancakes differ, because that’s outside my wheelhouse, but I can tell you that swedish pancakes don’t wrap and bend as easily as crepes.

Sweeters have been a token item on the menu for all holiday breakfasts, and over the past almost two years since Thomas has been working from home with me, they’ve been served at least once a week in my house. They’re popular with us. But the Stockholm in is the home of the OG sweeter. We had to check it out.

Between the five of us, and Grammy and her sister, we ordered far too many sweeters and managed to consume most of them. Even baby Gage got some, despite our attempts to keep him away from gluten. It just seemed unfair to not let him partake.

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Sidebar: Lingonberries are hard to come by in the real world. They are almost strictly a Swedish thing. Luckily, we discovered long ago that you can snag them at a pretty good price at your local Ikea! Keep that in mind the next time you need a well priced, self assembled piece of furniture.

After we indulged- man, is that becoming a daily thing on this dang road trip- we headed back to Grammy’s to pick up her car and escort her to her driving test. Cinco de Mayo is Grammy’s birthday! And if having her great grandkids in house, AND swedish pancakes doesn’t make for an amazing birthday, I know a driving test surly seals the deal… for a sixteen year old. Grammy is now 89 years old. A driving test is NOT her favorite thing on the list of to-do’s. BUT, her license would be expired as of her birthday if she didn’t get it done.

Grammy is not necessarily a procrastinator. This is not her first time to the DMV to take the test. It just hasn’t ever been the RIGHT day. Well, as the DMV God’s would have it, Cinco de Mayo wasn’t the day either. After we escorted her there and dropped her off, there was a paperwork mishap and she ended up driving to and fro two more times before throwing in the towel. It’s good to know that the DMV does not get better with age.

When we split from Grammy that morning, we headed to the Discovery Center Museum. This was another location that happened to be on the other side of Rockford- aka the other side of the moon! But man was it worth the trek. Cadence has not stopped talking about it since! It’s basically exactly what it sounds like- a discovery center. They have rooms about farming, weather, space, music, electricity, and all the other things I can’t even remember that we did. It’s all play, but it’s all learning and experimenting. I can’t deny that Thomas and I didn’t find most of it pretty dang amusing ourselves. What a great way to kill time and entertain kids! Totally win! Must see!

Although at the very last minute, we discovered that there was an entire additional floor that we didn’t know was there- Cay has not let us forget it- we had to call it a day and get back so the kids could have lunch and Gage could nap. And after the museum, Gage was absolutely in need of a nap. He’s a champ, but he can only do so much.

Back at Grammy’s, Gage napped, the kids played outside and Thomas and I relaxed! I worked a little bit, and tried to put together a vlog- I know we’re way behind!!- but on the whole, it was about not doing anything. It was about just being together and taking it all in. These moments together, especially these moments with Grammy, are treasured and need to be taken in as they come.

Aunt Marie and Uncle Bill- Big Tom’s sister and her husband- arrived Friday evening just before dinner. They live in Indiana and came out to spend the weekend with us. What a joy! Aside from a few weddings and holidays over the years, I have not had much time to even have a meaningful conversation with either of them, so it was wonderful to get to know them and spend some time together.

Friday night we had- you guessed it- round two of reubens. Hey, no one was complaining! They do it right! After we got the kids in bed, Marie pulled out some pretty decadent desserts to celebrate Grammy’s birthday! Marie has been apprenticing with a master chocolatier back in Indiana, and man was I amazed. This thing… let me just show you:

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Marie calls it the Dome of ecstasy. It has like 12 layers of amazingness. Mouse, and caramel, and cake, and fudge like goodness. And my favorite part, the bottom, is like a crunch bar. It was quite rich, but I’m glad she brought one for each of us, because it’s not something you can just go get again. You really need to fully take in all the calories yourself. It was amazing and the topic of discussion for at least 30 minutes.

In the morning, we were treated to veggie omelettes. It was a nice counter to the high calorie dessert from the night before. Marie and Bill use a special ingredient in their omelette making that will now be a staple in my home omelettes- balsamic vinaigrette. I don’t know if that sounds good or bad to you, Readers, but it’s good. Trust me and give it a go! Just pour some on the top after it’s made. WIN!

After breakfast, we headed out to Alpine Park. This is where I get a little snotty because I’m like alpine where? There is no ‘alpine’ in Illinois. I’m from alpine! But either way, the park was fun! The kids love parks, right, so the grown ups get a tiny break while the kids are distracted and run around. We get to sit and chat. Even Gage was playing for longer than I expected him to stay entertained.

This is the cool thing about parks: You get to watch your kids when they don’t really realize that’s what you’re doing. They’re not performing for you. Actually, they’ve basically forgotten about you. It’s so funny to see how different they are when they’re exposed in this way.

Cadence, my five year old, she finds her best friend immediately. She is so social and will go make friends with the girl- preferable, but she’ll befriend boys if need be- that is closest to her age and together they go find another group of kids to boss around. I love that girl, after my own heart for sure. She has absolutely no fear in social situations. She’s going to be the cool kid- hopefully not the mean girl- that I always admired.

Merit is also like me, but in a completely different way. If he doesn’t have his sister, or a friend, he is a solo kid. He only joins small groups. So for example, if there were only one other family, or one other kid at the park, Cadence would befriend the kids and Merit would tag along. But in the case of this park, there were dozens of kids. He was overwhelmed and Cadence wasn’t available for the introductions, so he just ran around and played by himself. This is what I would do too. If I don’t have a friend to make me feel bold and brave, I tend to make myself busy. I’m shy in groups. And that’s my sweet three year old. But he’s not having any less fun, and I’d be the same. We know how to keep ourselves entertained. Our imaginations are the best, the most developed.

And then there is Gage. My sweet baby Gage. He just tries to keep up. I can’t quite see his personality in the same defined way as the other two, but I can see that he is daring, he is brave, he is willing, and he is outgoing. I can’t wait to watch him grow into whoever he becomes.

So here is another thing about the park: When you can leave at any time, you’re having a blast! The second daddy takes the truck back to the house to start the pot roast for dinner, it get’s cold, Gage get’s tired and Merit decides he’s done everything he wants to do. The park can go from super fun, to super lame in an instant. This, we discovered at Alpine.

Back at Grammy’s we made some lunch and the kids played outside some more- God love it- while Gage napped and Marie and Bill headed to the mall. I worked and Thomas read. He’s reading a book called ‘The Dirty Life,’ that my mother in law sent for me to read and he is loving it. I haven’t had the chance to pick it up, but apparently I’m going to love it too.

Dinner, as mentioned before, was pot roast. It’s Grammy’s favorite. And it’s home cooked, so that’s always a win on a road trip of this nature. We’ve eaten a LOT of restaurant food and I can’t say that I’ve made good choices whatsoever. I’m really started to look forward to all the fresh food that I know will be coming out of the ground at our farm when we get there. Time for a diet overhaul!

Once we had dinner under our belts- like literally- it was bath and bed for the kids, and more visiting for the adults. We retreated into the living room and continued to get to know each other. As a kid, I always used to marvel at how much grown ups can talk. And now, as an adult, I still marvel at it.

Sunday morning, the last morning of Marie and Bill’s visit, we ate more home cooked omelettes with balsamic, and fresh fruit, before doing a test flight of the drone- an ever popular device- and saying our goodbyes. And what’s a goodbye without a million pictures?

It’s going to be really wonderful to be on this side of the world now. We have big plans to get to know all of these people so much better in the coming years! It’s way overdue.

So we’re obviously the most popular kids on the block because once Marie and Bill were on their way, it was only about an hour before the next round of visitors made their appearance. Sarah and Billy- my mother in law’s sister and brother- and Billy’s wife, aptly named Wendy as well, showed up bearing gifts and cookies! I love the midwest!

We sat in Grammy’s living room for a little over an hour and caught up on all the going’s on of one another’s life. What’s funny is we really already knew everything about each other- through the grapevine of course- and so it was really a game of prompting each other to rehash the story we’ve already heard, through the original source. Is that just us? Or is that the way everyone does it? For example, we knew Sarah’s husband had had a stroke a little over a year ago, but we hadn’t heard HER tell us about it. It’s really a wonderful way to get the full story and help flesh out all the details. I just find it amusing sometimes how we grown ups do life. Again, it’s amazing how much we all have to say to each other, isn’t it?

Obviously the kids played outside the whole time. They could care less about talking. Half the time Cadence doesn’t even stop playing long enough to find out her new best friend’s name. Details, you know?

After Sarah, Billy and Wendy were on their way, Thomas took the trailer to dump it and the dogs to run and I wrote while the kids played.

Grammy did laundry. God bless that woman’s soul. She has been doing laundry absolutely non-stop since we arrived a week ago. And I know for sure we aren’t producing laundry as much as she is needing to do it. I’m pretty certain she must be washing 7 pieces at a time, and blowing them dry with her own lungs. But she loves to be helpful, and she is. It’s such a treat to have someone willing and able to do your laundry for you! The things you just don’t want to take for granted, right?

Once Thomas returned, we were off to a quick dinner at Grammy’s absolute favorite restaurant- Beef-a-roo. Yes, that’s what it’s called. Trust me, I’m as confused by this marketing strategy as you are. And I have to say, I was shocked when we arrived and they claimed to be celebrating their 50th anniversary! I mean, with a name like Beef-a-roo, you’ve got to be cranking out some good food!

When Thomas first mentioned this place, I basically decided we wouldn’t be going. I don’t need to go to Beef-a-roo. But then Grammy said it was her favorite place- she goes there once a week at least, no less- and my mother in law also recommended it. That made me a little curious. And quite frankly, the more it was brought up, the more I just had to check it out!

I’m sorry to say, I wasn’t a fan. Thomas described it as the In N Out of sandwiches, and well… I get where he was going with that… maybe. It’s a nicer than average fast food joint. But it’s still basically fast food. I had a wrap, I tried the sweet potato fries and I tried the pork tender sandwich. Not good, not great, and basically bad. I’m so sad to say it, trust me. By the time I was convinced to go, I really wanted to be wrong about Beef-a-roo… but it’s a no go for me.

Once we made it back home, it was right on the cusp of too early to get the kids ready for bed and too late to do anything else, but I just decided to squeeze in our first family bike ride. The weather here in Illinois is so strange. It’s been sunny, but really too cold to be out in. And then RIGHT before the sun goes down, the wind stops and it feels the warmest it is all day. It’s actually exactly perfect sweater weather just before night fall. So we just had to take advantage.

Cadence has recently learned- or is still learning in some ways- to ride her bike without training wheels. Thomas got me a bike from his mom and dad- a cruiser that’s quite easy to ride. We bought a baby trailer that goes on the back of the cruiser and Gage absolutely thinks it’s the coolest thing ever. And little Merit is a champion on his little man bike. It was a complete win and it made me think of a thousand times I’ve ridden my bike around my own grandma’s neighborhood. I’m sure it’s not ALL grandmas living in that neighborhood, but that’s the way that it is in my head. This neighborhood is old, it smells amazing and fresh, like the flowers that are in everyone’s grandma’s yard, and the streets are wide and the grass is green. It was just absolutely perfect. Such an amazing end to our day. And it was the exact right amount of energy expended to make sure we were all ready to crash!

It’s been so overwhelming to be on this journey, and I know that the real journey has really not yet begun. It’s going to be truly ever unfolding from this point forward. Am I nervous? Yes. Am I excited? Absolutely. Am I ready? Most days. But I know- without question- that I am led. That this is the path we’re meant to be on. That this is His plan. And I’m grateful beyond words for the blessings that continue to fall in our path- both the ones that are obvious, and the one’s that become obvious later. Thank you for coming along with us as we take on this adventure and challenge. It’s so fun to document.

Until next time…

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