Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Farewell, 2013

Here we are again, concluding yet another year. Ushering out the old and welcoming in the new. Time for a fresh start!

I love the New Year, not only for its promise of new beginnings but also for the forced reflection on days gone by. I feel like every year, as I head into New Year's Eve, I think, "eh, this last year was pretty uneventful." And then I spend some time flipping through pictures and scanning old blog posts and I realize, hey, this year was actually amazing and action-packed and one to remember. Every year, it's the same old dance.

This year was no exception. Our first full calendar year as Florida residents, at first blush 2013 seemed like a pretty ho-hum year, especially compared to the action-packed, exhilarating days of our former New York life. But in fact, it's not that our life is boring now, but it is different and the focus has shifted. Our time is filled fewer red carpets and wild events, and more with family and friends and each other. And that's not a terrible way to spend a year.

There were a great many memorable moments of 2013, including Ellie's first birthday, our Sea World trip, Ellie learning to walk, our Midwestern Road Trip (including being Duckmasters at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, and Eric playing Whistling Straits in Wisconsin), Eric's summer in Jacksonville for Teach For America Institute, our move to Jacksonville, Eric's start as a high school teacher and football coach, Ellie really starting to talk, and visits and weddings and birthday parties and lots of time with family and friends.

Overall, I think it goes without saying that 2013 was a year of great change for us. Naturally, the biggest changes came in the form of our move to Jacksonville and Eric's new career. I can't say that we are concluding this year with a feeling of being settled in this new life, but I am hopeful that 2014 will bring more closure, peace and acceptance of our new path, as well as clarity for what the future holds. And, much like its predecessor, 2014 certainly promises to bring more new, exciting things for our family!

I hope you all are looking back on your year in 2013 with fondness and peace, and I wish you nothing but the best in the new year. Thank you all for sharing in yet another year of memories with us.

VIDEO: A look back at our 2013

Happy New Year, friends!

Signing off for 2013,


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry, Merry

"Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."
- Luke 2:10-12

Merry Christmas, dear friends! May your day be merry and bright!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Break

We're really in the throes of the holiday season now, aren't we? Things are starting to get a little hectic! I think Thanksgiving being so late this year really forced everything into overdrive right away.

Things are definitely starting to get crazy for us. Ellie and I are leaving on Wednesday for St. Petersburg for 11 days, and Eric will join me once school lets out. Then it will be back to Jacksonville for three days (including Christmas itself) before hitting the road for Cleveland. We're driving it this year (prayers for the sanity of both toddler and parents, please), so we'll spend two days on the road, three full days in Cleveland, then we'll make our way back. We'll be departing Cleveland on New Year's Eve, and will spend the last night of 2013 in Pinehurst, NC at a lovely suites hotel, where we will ring the in the New Year with Ryan Seacrest just as we would have at home. Then, on New Year's Day, Ellie and I will watch the Rose Parade while Eric golfs a super fancy golf course, and when he returns, I will hit the spa. We'll finish up our return trip to Jacksonville on January 2nd, and then it will all be over. Phew!

Of course, on top of all that travel there's all the usual holiday stuff - family visits, gifts to purchase and wrap, traditions and meals and all that fun stuff. So, busy, busy.

In light of all the Christmas craziness, I just wanted to give a heads up that I'm going to be on a little holiday hiatus, blog-wise. I'm going to let myself relax and enjoy all this family fun and travel rather than worrying about keeping up with my posts. I may pop in here and there, but don't be surprised if it's radio silence for a few weeks. There's a lot of life happening!

In the meantime, I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season and all your preparations are coming together nicely. If you're traveling, safe travels. If you're staying put, happy relaxing. Whatever you're doing, enjoy! Have a wonderful season, my friends!

Happy Holidays from the cutest little Christmas girl!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Year Later

One year ago today was our very first day as Florida residents. That means that one year ago yesterday, we loaded up our suitcases and took a flight from Newark to Tampa, with a newly teething, newly crawling, over-tired, non-sleeping baby and an excessively anxious dog in tow. So, the kind of flight nightmares are made of. And that hellish flight was not delivering us to the Caribbean vacation of our dreams or any such thing, but rather, it was taking us away from the city we loved. So, not exactly our best day.

It's hard for me to believe a year has passed because it seems like so much longer. So much has transpired and there has been so much forced adjustment that our New York life seems like a lifetime ago. How has it only been a year?

But, it has been a year, and I figured an update was in order. In addition to being a year into Floridian life, we're also four months into Jacksonville/teaching life. Time to share how things are going.

First, the biggest change: Eric's new job. As far as I can tell, it has been both everything we expected and nothing like we expected. We expected it to be challenging, and that it is. Very much so, in fact. I'm sure at times it would be a bit more relaxing to just coast through, but I know Eric thrives under a challenge and so I'm glad he's finally found that in his day-to-day life. I think he is, too. And it is certainly fulfilling and important, as expected. Eric says that each day he feels like there are new reminders of why what he is doing is important, and I know he really just wants to help these kids. And he doesn't just want to help them learn Geometry or Algebra; he wants to help them learn to think and reason and succeed beyond the walls of his classroom. However, that is a very ambitious goal for a first year teacher, and I know that often Eric feels like he isn't very good at this new line of work. Which is to be expected, as he's been teaching for four months and this is hardly a teacher-turns-around-a-whole-classroom-of-troubled-kids-in-two-hours movie (thanks for the unrealistic expectations, Hilary Swank and Michelle Pfeiffer). It is going to take time just for him to perfect his basic teaching skills, let alone to figure out how to attain his higher goals. And he may never actually get there, because it will certainly be a constantly evolving process. But if you ask me (and his test scores, and a myriad anecdotes he tells me about his students that show he is making a difference), he's doing a great job as a rookie teacher in a tough situation, and especially one who also tackled the responsibility and time commitment of coaching football in his first semester. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Eric is a rock star; now the trick is just getting him to believe it. So, it is still a work in progress but I'm very proud of my husband and I think he should definitely be proud of himself.

As for Ellie and me, we have found a variety of activities to occupy our time. We go to story time at two different libraries and a Barnes & Noble store weekly. We hit up play areas at the mall and the St. John's Town Center. We have our grocery shopping/laundry/etc. routines in place. As described in an early Jacksonville post, we play on our porch and take walks around our "backyard." I will say that purchasing a second car has been my saving grace in this shamefully unwalkable city - being able to get out and do something every day is very important to the sanity of a stay-at-home-mom, so I'm glad Ellie and I have been able to find fun things to do and get a little system going.

As for Jacksonville itself, it's...fine. We've been doing our best to get out and explore and take advantage of opportunities and activities offered locally, and I think we've been doing a good job of it. And it has all been fun. But at the end of the day, I think Eric and I both just feel like it's...fine. Neither of us has been particularly overwhelmed with Jacksonville and we're not sure it's going to be a permanent home for us.

I fully admit that much of my lackluster attitude about Jacksonville is largely my fault. I had such high hopes for this city, unrealistically so. For the entire nine months we were living in St. Petersburg, a common thread in my thoughts was "as soon as we get to Jacksvonille..." Any time I felt the least bit homesick for New York or any sense of longing for our former life, I would tell myself, "just wait till we get to Jacksonville." I think I really thought that we would show up here, get our stuff moved in, and instantly fall in love with the city (much like we did in our former home). I had visions of us just feeling like we found the perfect place for us, quickly setting out to make plans to stay here long-term, researching neighborhoods, looking at houses, and settling down. I don't think any city could have lived up to the expectations I had set for Jacksonville. And when I got here and just felt kind of "eh" about it, it was hard to take.

Granted, we have only been here four months. We have at least another year and a half to go here, like it or not. I'm reserving full judgment until we have been here a full year and really experienced life in Jacksonville, in all seasons, holidays, etc. I'm doing my best to keep an open mind and we'll continue to seek out all the fun things we can possibly find. And maybe by this time next year, I'll be talking about the houses we're looking at or our long-term Jacksonville plan. A lot can happen in a year, am I right?

However, if it hasn't already been made obvious, New York is still at the front of my mind. I do not have nearly the closure I had hoped to have after a year's time. Not even close, in fact. And the thing about missing New York is that it's constantly in your face. New York is on the news, in the movies, in books, on TV. The other night, Eric and I were watching a show that ended with a final shot of a guy getting into a cab on West 53rd Street and 10th Avenue in New York City. How do I know that's where it was? Because our old apartment building was in the shot. Right there, on my TV, was the front door of the apartment I loved more than any other. On a day when I otherwise hadn't thought much about New York, it was like a shot in the heart. There is no escaping it. And really New York-centric things like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting? Forget it. I watch them, sure, because I'm clearly a masochist, but I do so with tears in my eyes. Is that normal, even after one year?

I just really didn't realize how tightly New York had woven itself into my identity, and I feel like a fish out of water here. I don't feel like a Floridian, and frankly, I'd rather be a New Yorker. I miss everything about that city - the tall buildings, the busy streets, the constant excitement, the fast pace and hustle and bustle. I always said that I wanted to have a big family and I never could imagine raising kids in the city, but since we've been gone, I've started to rethink that: what's so bad about kids in the city? I'd love for Ellie to grow up with the experiences New York can offer. And what's so bad about a smaller family, or living in an apartment forever? Isn't it worth the trade-off?

At this point, I have no idea where we'll ultimately end up. Will it be Jacksonville? I don't think so as of today, but crazier things have happened. Will it be New York? It seems unlikely, but I sure would love it. Maybe it will be an unforeseen mysterious "Option C," some other random city that we haven't even thought of yet. I have a hard time picturing myself ever loving any city nearly as much as New York, but surely it's possible?

So that's where we are as of today, one year after the Big Move: settling in, yet still very much in transition. Despite our mixed emotions about our current locale, our faith remains strong that this is where we are meant to be at this moment and that the work Eric doing is worthwhile. And that's really what the whole point of this move was, so it's hard to argue with that.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: Jacksonville & Eric's Birthday

Even after returning from our Thanksgiving festivities in St. Petersburg, we had a little more celebrating to do. This past Sunday was Eric's 31st birthday, and we celebrated him that evening in addition to enjoying a little Thanksgiving meal of our own.

When Ellie woke up from her nap on Sunday, we kicked things off with a cake for Eric. Ellie helped him blow out his candles and we all quite enjoyed a little dessert before dinner.

Not 31 candles, but candles in the shape of a 31!

Make a wish!

Yup. She loves cake now.

After we finished our cake, we went to work trimming our own Christmas tree. Ellie was a bit less helpful with the actual ornament application, although she did enjoy pulling them out of the boxes. She took a particular liking to a "lizard" ornament (an iguana I brought back from St. Thomas), and offered it to Achilles at one point, presumably so he would also feel included in the fun. She's a thoughtful one!

Trimming the tree

Ellie and Eric at work

Admiring her lizard

Lizard ornament for Achilles

Checking things out. Kid-friendly ornaments on the bottom branches, please!

I know I say this every year, but I love seeing how our tree has changed over the years. We first bought it when we were an engaged couple living in Washington D.C., and it was primarily decorated with store-bought red and silver balls. This year, not a single one of those generic balls made it onto the tree, because there just wasn't room after we hung all of our personal ornaments we've accumulated over the course of our marriage. Considering we've only been married six years, we'll probably need to invest in a bigger tree shortly!

The kids modeling the finished product

Since our tree trimming we've been working on getting more decorations up, but that night we also took some time to admire our porch lights. The most elaborate outdoor display ever? Not exactly. But much more than we've been able to do in recent years!

Check us out on the top balcony!

After trimming the tree, it was time to eat. We prepared a small turkey, along with some mashed potatoes, stuffing, peas and leftover green bean casserole from Thanksgiving itself. We had a tasty Thanksgiving dinner of our own to celebrate Eric's birthday!

Family at dinner

And now, we're officially Thanksgiving-ed out! The holiday as a whole was wonderful, and our own celebration/Eric's birthday was quite nice, too. Now we're just looking forward to Christmas!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: My Family

In my last post, I talked about our Thanksgiving dinner with Eric's family. But we also did some celebrating with my family on Thanksgiving, too.

First thing that morning, we went up to my grandmother's place to spend some time visiting with her. She isn't well enough to come over for dinner anymore, but we were glad to be able to spend that time with her. She got a big kick out of Ellie and we all enjoyed watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade together.

Ellie hanging out with her Great-Grandma

Watching the parade

We went from Grandma's to Eric's grandmother's for dinner, then back to my dad's house so Ellie could take a (short) nap. Then my sister Heather came over, we all dined on leftovers from dinner (plus shrimp, cheese, crackers, soup and wine, of course) and trimmed our Christmas trees. Ellie was awake and eager to help with the "family" tree - the one made up of fun lights, garland and all of our ornaments from childhood.

Inspecting the ornaments

Let's do this!

That Miss Piggy ornament has become a running gag/tradition - she is always front and center on the tree. Now, she's entertaining a new generation!

Looking so festive

Trimming the tree

Ellie and Eric

After the first tree was trimmed, we took a break to admire our handiwork, read some books (to Ellie) and watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special.

Ellie reading with Auntie Heather

Still checking out the tree

After Ellie was in bed, the grown-ups tackled the crystal tree in the front window of the house. It's a lovely tree, but not suitable for "helping" toddler hands!

Eric and Heather discussing artistic ornament placement

My dad and Heather hard at work



The mutt

It was a lovely evening!

The next day, Eric, Ellie and I met up with my mom in Tampa for lunch, followed by an afternoon of fun at Busch Gardens. The main highlight of the day was Ellie's Elmo encounter. We happened to catch both Big Bird and Elmo at the photo booth in the Sesame Street area, and we just had to give Elmo the chance to meet his biggest fan. I wasn't sure how Ellie would react, and half expected to have to carry her up to him because she would be shy and/or scared. But, no. How wrong I was! She ran right up to him, just as delighted as could be. She stopped a foot or two short of him and sat right down in front of him. Without missing a beat, Elmo joined her on the ground, which prompted her to climb right up into his lap. The joy on the face of that one! She could have stayed there all afternoon.


Best buds, sharing a sit

She is so happy.

Of course, because this was just about the cutest thing ever, we couldn't help but purchase the official photos (thanks, Mom!):

The whole gang

The highlight of Ellie's year

So, Ellie finally had a celebrity encounter she actually cared about! (Remember when she met VP Joe Biden? Yeah, Biden's got nothing on Elmo.)

After meeting Elmo, we stuck around to see his show at the theater there, which Ellie loved. Oh, the awkward-yet-painfully-precious toddler dancing that followed!

We also did a little playing in the Sesame Street area: Eric took Ellie on the tree house climbing thing ("no walk!"), and my mom and I took Ellie on the carousel. She liked the "roar" (lion) we rode on at first, but very quickly was requesting "all done wheeeee." So, the rides and attractions weren't a huge hit. We'll have to save Sheikra for our next visit, I suppose.

Eric and Ellie up in the sky


"All done."

We also caught the Christmas show at the Desert Grill, which Ellie enjoyed very much. (She's super obsessed with Santa right now, so if you combine Santa and music/dancing, she's sold.) By that time we were all pretty beat, so we wrapped up our afternoon and headed home.

Christmas at Busch Gardens!

And that really concluded our time in St. Pete! We returned to Jacksonville first thing the next morning (though the trip was a lengthy one thanks to traffic issues on I-4), and then had our own celebrations back at our place. I'll share more about that tomorrow.

Thanks to all of our family members for making this Thanksgiving such a memorable one for us, and for Ellie in particular!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013: Eric's Family

For the first time in blog history, I totally forgot to get a Thanksgiving post up on the actual holiday. Apparently I am no longer thankful in my old age. Judge me!

Not really though. In fact, I have lots to be thankful for this year. And one of those things is our new ability to celebrate holidays with family, which is what caused my posting "responsibilities" to slip my mind. So, to kick off Thanksgiving recaps, let me make it up to you:

from our family to yours!

Thanksgiving 2013

Alright, then. Moving on.

We drove down to St. Petersburg Tuesday evening last week and stayed through the holiday until Saturday morning. During that time we were able to see all of our parents and most siblings, which was so nice. I'm going to split my recaps into two posts according to "side of the family," starting with Eric's family.

On Wednesday morning, Eric and Ellie went to Eric's stepmother's sister's house to visit with his dad and Suellen. I have said a million times over that one of the best things - nope, scratch that, THE best thing - about living in Florida is our close proximity to family, thus giving Ellie the opportunity to form relationships with her extended family. However, for various reasons, until last week we have been unable to coordinate a visit with Eric's dad and stepmom. Considering the last time we saw them, Ellie was a wee shrimp of four months, Eric was super excited to show off our bubbly, now-20-month-old toddler to that branch of his family tree. (I had prior plans with my sister so had to miss the visit this time.)

From what I hear, the visit went quite well and everybody had ample opportunity to see how awesome Ellie is (duh)! If nothing else, she sure was a lot heavier to hold this time around!

Ellie and her Grandpa W.

Hanging out with Grandpa and Grandma Suellen

We saw Eric's mom, Gramz, sister Kelley and Phyllis on Thanksgiving proper for dinner. Eric, Ellie, my dad and I went over to Gramz's house around 12:30 on Thanksgiving day, and before long we were dining on a feast largely prepared by Publix. (Thanks for handling the cooking this time, Publix!) We had a great time sharing what we were thankful for while we dined, and we enjoyed a lovely cake (expertly-marbled by Eric) in honor of Gramz's birthday. After dinner, Ellie had a blast playing with Aunt Kelley. Good times with good family!

A gratuitous outfit shot, because BABY BOOTS ARE THE CUTEST THING EVER.

The meal

Ellie getting ready to throw a fit about the Thanksgiving food before her, demanding string cheese in its place

Cake for Gramz! Unfortunately, we forgot the birthday candles, but don't worry. There's an app for that.

She likes cake now. Not a moment too soon.

Auntie Kelley is so fun!

A little quality time with Nonnie


Our Thanksgiving visits with the W. family were so nice, and we can't wait to see them again over the coming Christmas holiday!

Stay tuned for the rest of our Thanksgiving fun in St. Pete: tree trimming at my dad's house, and Busch Gardens with my mom!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

31 Years of Eric

Today my husband celebrates his 31st birthday. Unfortunately, I am going to have to break with tradition this year: I do not have a list of 31 things I love about him prepared, thanks to our Thanksgiving travel this week. Bad wife! For shame!

But rest assured, there are 31 new things that I love about Eric this year. There always are. Each year, he continues to impress and amaze me with his selflessness, caring and concern, thoughtfulness, ambition and love. It seems that with each passing year - or rather, each passing day - he becomes a better husband, a better father, a better friend. I don't know how he does it, nor do I know how I got to be so lucky to be on the receiving end.

This year has brought all of that to light even more than ever, as Eric has worked hard to help us settle in to our new home. In addition to remaining extraordinarily devoted to our family, he has worked tirelessly at his new job, putting in hours upon hours each day (especially during football season), trying to do what's best for his students as he finds his own footing. His passion and ambition are incredibly admirable and I'm so thrilled to see those traits at work in a new career that is both challenging and fulfilling.

We don't have a whole lot planned to celebrate today. Last night we picked up some dinner and watched a movie, and today we're planning to do a mini-Thanksgiving of our own back in Jacksonville, with a toned-down turkey dinner and the annual Christmas tree trimming this evening. It's hardly a rowdy celebration, but includes a lot of quality family time, which Eric (at least claims to) enjoy the most of all anyway.

Eric, thanks so much for being you. Ellie and I are so incredibly lucky to have you, and I hope you know just how loved and appreciated you really are. Thank you for all that you do for us and for constantly making us feel like the most loved girls in the world. Happy birthday, my dear. We love you!