Brussels

21 Jul

For Father’s Day weekend, we packed up the car and drove to Belgium for a quick getaway. Since we were traveling out of England, we had to get an international traveler’s kit which included GB stickers for the car and a breathalyzer, among other things. Lena was pretty excited about it all. We also took the Chunnel for the first time despite having no idea what to expect. I was a bit stressed when I saw everyone driving their vehicles into a giant train like a herd of cattle. Kind of creepy to be traveling under the ocean on a double decker cargo caboose but luckily, the journey only lasted about 30 minutes.

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Our first day was spent in Brussels as it was the furthest destination from the Chunnel. We didn’t have much of a plan for the day so we started out by taking a walk through a nearby park. I’m not sure if we were in a bad part of town but it was pretty run down and the water was more slime than liquid. Even the ducks seemed reluctant to swim in it. Lena didn’t seem to notice, however, and desperately wanted to go in. Gross.

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After a quick breakfast at our hotel, we hopped on the subway towards the town center. I guess we’ve been a bit spoiled living in England and have become accustomed to the high level of cleanliness here. The subway situation was dismal; it was like a really risky game of don’t-die-in-a-mineshaft-and-try-not-to-catch-gangrene. Everything was unfinished, dirty, and seemed to lack organization. Nevertheless, we made it to our destination and were treated to some gorgeous views.

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I knew Brussels was popular for beer, chocolate, and waffles but had no clue there would be so many shops dedicated to those things. There were so many options that it got a bit overwhelming but La Belgique Gourmande lured us in with free samples and then it was all over. We bought some chocolates as well as Belgian noses or “neuzekes” which Jason loved. They’re sort of a jelly candy with a semi-crispy outside and gooey inside. There were tons of flavors to choose from so we grabbed an assortment before heading on to Grand Place.

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The architecture was stunning and I loved the gold accents against the dark stone. The detail on each building was just incredible; it’s hard to imagine the amount of time and effort that went into creating these buildings.

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As we were about to move on, Jason started acting really strange and mentioned to me that there was a large group of tourists staring and pointing at Lena. An older Asian man came over and we finally figured out he wanted a picture with the Bacon Bit. A friend had told me that while living in Japan, the locals would practically mob her anytime she went out in public with her blonde haired, blue-eyed daughter. So when I realized that was the case here, I found it absolutely hysterical and took a picture of Lena and her new buddy. This was probably the highlight of my day as it was so random; Lena was unamused as usual.

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Since we were fairly close, we also decided to go see the infamous Manneken Pis or Peeing Boy (please excuse my pregnant belly). I’m not entirely sure what the allure is, but replicas of this little tinkler are all over the city. Lena was confused about what he was holding in his hand which I found hilarious. And anytime we’d pass another souvenir shop, she had to check out her new little friend in the window. In other words, it took us triple the time of a normal person to get anywhere thanks to our little window shopper.

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After some french fries (another Belgian claim to fame), we started back toward the subway station. But first, Jason treated himself to some Leffe while Lena and I shared a waffle with Nutella and strawberries. We figured after walking all day, we deserved a treat.

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After one quick photo session and a meet and greet with the local pigeons, we called it a day. I’m really glad we visited Brussels as it had some beautiful buildings and delicious treats but one day was plenty for us to explore. It was such a short drive from England as well that it made for a perfect day trip and it’s likely a place we would never have visited otherwise.

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Day trip to Paris

15 Jul

For the four years I lived in Arizona, I spent every work day giggling my buns off with the one and only “Nicole Fierce.” I’m not even sure I can put into words all the ways this chick has enriched my life and just been there for me. In the span of those four years, we supported each other through a couple engagements, messy break ups, near-backyard weddings, divorces, issues with kids, and multiple rounds of lay offs. Nicky stood in as the witness for my wedding to the Sarge and even had the forethought to buy me a bouquet – and as a result, made lilies my favorite flower. She can have me doubled over in laughter, legs desperately crossed in an attempt not to pee myself with just a simple look or grunt. We’re those obnoxious friends with our own language and a trillion inside jokes that are probably not even that funny but we find hysterical.

When she informed me she would be touring Europe with the Daughters of the American Revolution as well as wearing a homemade American flag dress purchased at Cracker Barrel, I knew there was no way I was going to miss out. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness the flag dress’ debut at the D-Day parade in Normandy, but I was able to fly into Paris for a day and play tourist with Nicky and her mom. I took an early morning flight out of Heathrow, landing at Orly airport at 9am. Since I don’t have an international cell phone, I told Nicky I’d just find her hotel and meet her there as soon as I could. So I hopped on a bus, got off somewhere *close* to where I thought her hotel was and started walking. Unfortunately, I got a bit disoriented (read: had no idea where I was) and did a few circles before finding the street I was looking for. Apparently, there was some mix up in my conversion of kilometers to miles and after 45 minutes of walking in 90 degrees plus humidity, I had to tap out and get in a cab. Strike one.

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Once I got to the hotel, I found out the Daughters (of DAR, if you’re savvy) hadn’t arrived yet so I left a note saying I’d be back around noon and went to grab some lunch. Since it was a Sunday, nothing was really open save a little bagel shop on the corner. I’d hoarded my airplane food because I’m related to my mom and have to eat every hour or I’ll get a hangry low blood sugar attack. So I polished off my goodies and a bagel and decided to tour Jardin du Luxembourg. It was really gorgeous and I found a nice seat in the sunshine while I took a few photos. After a couple returns to the hotel, I finally found Nicky standing outside and we were off.

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Her mom had arranged to meet up with a former coworker, Maia, who actually lived in Paris. So we basically got a private tour of the city from a local which was amazing. During college, I spent a month in Paris studying Art History so I’d already seen the major tourist attractions. This visit was completely different as Maia showed us some of her favorite spots. The Arab World Institute was one of my favorite spots and Maia explained how the windows were made up of camera apertures that adjusted themselves based on the amount of sunlight coming in. The result was this incredible glass wall of texture.

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We trekked on towards Notre Dame and took a few obligatory pictures with gargoyles standing guard in the background. As usual, Nicky was a hot mess and had me dying laughing. We apparently picked a hot spot for photos as we kept ending up with random tourists in our shots so Nicky just went with it.

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I should also mention that Nicky is an avid reader and a particular fan of teen literature. When we met, she was deep into her Harry Potter obsession and then the Twilight books came out. Despite my protests, she forced me to read the entire series as she was incapable of talking about anything else for several months. Luckily, I’m a fast reader, unlike our buddy Fred who she forced to listen to the audiotapes in order to sit with us at lunch. She can be a bit of a bully at times. Anyway, being a literature lover, we stopped in at this awesome little bookstore called Shakespeare and Company that boasts famous visitors including Ernest Hemmingway, among others. The place was packed and I could have spent hours looking at all their books if not for the heat and body odor trapped within the very small space.

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By this time, we were all pretty hungry so Maia took us on a safari to one of her favorite, authentic French restaurants. She patiently translated the entire menu for us, offering up suggestions on what to order for the best experience. While no one ordered any snails or frog lets, Maia did get an appetizer of hard boiled eggs covered in mayonnaise. While this may sound gross, it was actually amazingly delicious. The egg yolks were almost orange (always a good sign) and the mayonnaise was more of a dijon mustard – light yellow in color – with a hint of vinegar. She told us it’s simple to make at home so I may attempt it at some point because it was so good. I ordered beef cheeks which is now my favorite nickname and was also a very tender meat. It came almost like a pot roast with a thick, gravy-like sauce, veggies, and noodles. Tasty.

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We walked off our dinner through the streets of Paris, taking pictures here and there of some of the beautiful buildings as well as Nicky just being herself. After a quick treat of Nutella crepes, we hired a cab to take us back to the hotel. Our cab driver was insane, to put it mildly. He rolled down all the windows and blasted everything from Madonna to the Beach Boys while making a sunglass-wearing teddy bear dance in his lap. Nicky recorded it, as she tends to do, while I laughed hysterically and her mom gripped the front seat for dear life. It was memorable.

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After snuggling like three little piggies in a blanket (me, Nicky and her mom shared a bed), we packed up the next morning and took our time getting to the airport. We had a nice omelette breakfast with fresh squeezed orange juice and then attempted to navigate the metro. We made another pit stop for some French pastries and last minute pictures before catching our flight to London. Nicky and her mom were off to Scotland while it was back to the glamorous mom life for me. Though it was short, it was the perfect trip and I had so much fun just picking up where we left off. Nicky and Bev, thank you so much for letting me in on your great European adventure. Your generosity is unparalleled and there is never a shortage of fun and laughter with you two. We are ready to host you in England once the jet lag has worn off from this last adventure. Love you both dearly!

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Hipp! Hipp! Hurra!

11 Jul

The 17th of May is a big day for Norwegians as it marks the signing of the Norwegian constitution and thus their declaration to be an independent kingdom from Sweden. Growing up in Washington state, we rarely missed a Syttende Mai parade in the most Norwegian of all cities; Ballard. It was one of the few times each year that I wasn’t mortified to be seen in public wearing my bunad mainly because everyone else was dressed like me. Upon moving away from home, my patriotic celebrations were put on hiatus due to geographical difficulties. As it turns out, there aren’t many Scandinavians in Arizona and North Carolina. Vikings don’t do well in heat – it doesn’t mesh with their fur-loving fashion sense.

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Now that we’re abroad and consequently much closer to the motherland, I’ve been able to resume my annual festivities. The 17th happened to fall on a Saturday this year and as luck would have it, this was also the 200th anniversary of the big day. While I am still hoping to experience Nasjonaldagen in Norway at some point, the London celebration was a close second. And apparently, it was the largest gathering outside of Oslo in honor of the bicentennial.

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Lena finally fit into her hand-me-down folk costume (there are photos somewhere of me and my cousins wearing it as children) and I proceeded to take a million photos nearly exploding from the cuteness. And I conned Jason into wearing red, white and blue with me; dubbing him an honorary Norwegian for being able to put up with my antics. The man is a saint.

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We traveled to Southwark park while Lena chanted, “Hipp! Hipp! Hurra!” along with her fellow Norwegians. Everywhere I looked, there were bunads, Norwegian flags, and people who looked like me. Finally! My people! As I felt myself grinning like an idiot, I was hit with the sobering realization that I had fully morphed into my mother.

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We spent the morning listening to folk music, watching the halling dancers and eating Norwegian food. Nearly everyone was speaking Norwegian; so much so that Jason refused to order anything as he was worried he’d be expected to say something. He tried his first pølse med lompe – a sausage wrapped in lefse or the Norwegian version of a hot dog. And we let Lena enjoy some Laban Seigmenn – I nearly overdosed on these little sugar men while living in Norway; they’re that delicious.

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The day ended with a parade through the park lead by the children’s groups from the local Norwegian school. After all the excitement, Lena passed out in her stroller and we headed to a nearby pub before traveling home. It was one of the best days I’ve had in awhile.

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May Recap

10 Jul

As usual, I’m months behind on documenting this little life of ours. But better late than never, right?

May brought some beautiful days with sunshine and semi-warm temperatures. That last part is relative to where we live; anything above 65 degrees is now considered “warm” weather. Yes, we still miss the South at times. Lena started taking ballet classes at the local dance school. I wasn’t quite sure how it would go as she’s more of a pop-lock-it-drop-it dancer than a graceful ballerina but she absolutely loves it. This is the most structured environment she’s been in to date and I think it will be a good transition for preschool. Lena adores her teacher, Miss Louise, and constantly asks me to take her to dance class. So we’ll stick with it for now. If nothing else, watching a bunch of pink-clad toddlers run around in tutus and attempt to spin without falling provides for some hysterical entertainment.

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Jason had to meet up with one of his airmen on base so we decided to turn it into a little family day by stopping in for some bowling. We’ve lived here close to two years now and I had no idea there was a bowling alley on base. Needless to say, we don’t hang out there much. My average bowling score hovers in the 40′s so it’s safe to say I’m absolutely awful at it. That could be in part because I go about once every five years. So this may not be all that exciting, but I was impressed by the kiddie accommodations – namely this dragon ball slide that allowed Lena to roll her bowling ball down the lane. True to form, she insisted on picking out her own ball and carrying it by herself each turn. The ball she chose was 10 pounds – approximately 1/3 her weight. It’s that Viking blood; she’s a berserker. For the most part, it all went well. We had a little issue keeping Lena off the side lanes as she liked how slippery they were. At one point, she almost took Jason down with her. Luckily, he maintained his balance so I didn’t have to deal with peeing my pants in public. Because there is nothing more hilarious than watching people fall.

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We were apparently feeling quite patriotic because we went to another event on base in May. Jason and I both have always loved the band Third Day. In fact, Lena’s very first concert was to see Third Day at Busch Gardens when our good friends in The Matt Bartlett Band opened up for them. So when we found out the USO was bringing them to RAF Mildenhall, we were really excited. Jason told me to expect a 30 minute show as that’s what groups normally do in the desert. Instead, they played a two hour set and took all sorts of requests from the crowd. It was such a great show and felt like we were just hanging out with the band rather than being “entertained.” Lena, being the social little butterfly that she is, made friends with a little girl and the two of them went all-out dancing much to the entertainment of everyone seated in the bleachers.

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Our final big adventure in May was a day out at Anglesey Abbey with my friend, Naz, and her daughter, Arabella. The warmer weather meant the gardens were in bloom and the colors were absolutely gorgeous. Nothing compares to the color combos found in nature. We brought a picnic lunch and let the girls run around chasing bees and butterflies. The sun was shining, the company was lovely, and the salty and sweet popcorn Naz brought was delicious. It was a perfect day!

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Southern Hospitality

19 Jun

After nearly two years, we finally made it back to visit Jason’s dad and his wife Cherry. I could not ask for better in-laws; these are two of the most thoughtful and generous people I’ve ever met and I love them dearly. Cherry is the epitome of Southern Hospitality. Every time we visit, the house is stocked with our favorite foods, toys for Lena and there is usually a completely new bedroom set and decor in the guest room. Since we were leaving just before Easter, GeeGee and Mimi (as Lena affectionately calls them) had put together a special Easter basket for the munchkin complete with chocolates, books, toys and bubbles. Basically, all of Lena’s favorites things in this world.

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Tom is retired so we got to spend quite a bit of time with him which was great. He and Lena are two little peas in a pod and we actually suspect she may just be Tom’s complete clone. These two spent the majority of their time snuggled up together watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and snacking on Honey Chex while being smothered by four small chihuahuas. The jury is still out on who enjoyed it more.IMG_9172IMG_9134

Jason’s stepsister, Leanna, has a beautiful daughter named Victoria who also spent a few days with us entertaining Lena. And by entertaining, I mean that Lena bossed her around. They colored, played with puzzles, and ran around in the backyard with a frisbee. Luckily the weather wasn’t horribly humid yet so we were able to enjoy a bit of sunshine. I’d forgotten how bad the bug situation is in the South, however, so I spent most of my time in the enclosed porch. Ain’t nobody got time for gnats.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of Cherry as she had just started at a new job and was in the throes of training. She’d also come down with an awful cough and tried to quarantine herself so as not to get the rest of us sick. However, she still managed to treat us to her famous meatloaf – something I’d been looking forward to since we booked our tickets. Mmm, my mouth is watering just thinking of it. She makes a honey mustard and ketchup dip that is drinkable and some of the most delicious mashed potatoes ever. We tried to help out by cooking dinner a few times but ultimately, she was just too gracious of a host to let us do much. Also, she is super stylish and has a knack for sending us amazing packages filled with beautiful clothes that we always love. Basically, Cherry’s the best!

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It was a really low key visit with lots of time spent just enjoying each other’s company. We don’t get to see GeeGee and Mimi very often but you’d never know it by how much Lena talks about them. And let’s not forget the pups – I now know where Jason gets his “stern” voice and high pitched giggle. It’s always hilarious to watch him and his dad together because they share so many of the same quirks. And Lena is following closely behind.

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Tom and Cherry, we love you both so very much! Thank you for another wonderful visit and all the thoughtful details you put into making us feel welcome. You have blended your two families together to create a beautiful legacy and these grand babies are a testament to that. We can’t wait to come back again soon!

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4th Wedding Anniversary – Savannah, Georgia

17 Jun

In honor of not killing each other for the past four years of marriage, we decided to take a quick detour through Savannah, Georgia. The Sarge found us a great deal on a fancy shmancy golf resort across from the River Walk. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to enjoy the golf course as the weather was bordering on a hurricane but the views were beautiful and the beds were heavenly. The Diva approved.

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Much to Lena’s delight, we rode a boat across the river and enjoyed a delicious anniversary dinner at River House Seafood. Somehow, our little munchkin managed to sit quietly for the entire meal so it almost felt like a real date.

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After purchasing a pound and a half of pralines, eating them in bed, and sleeping off our sugar comas into the next morning, we set off to have lunch at the infamous Green Truck Pub. Jason and Dustin had visited this mecca of organic goodness several years before and hadn’t stopped talking about it since. Unfortunately, I was feeling nauseous so wasn’t too adventurous in my meal selection but my little bowl of soup did just the trick. We even ordered a slice of Pecan Pie for the road per Jason’s strong recommendation and love for all things pecan. Lena, meanwhile, was completely unimpressed by it all.IMG_9030

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On to the River Walk, we spent most of the time diverting Lena from throwing herself off the dock. No matter where we are, she has this insatiable need to put herself in the most dangerous places possible. I’m sure if my mom had been with us, she would have been in a full-blown panic.

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Jason was in heaven being surrounded by so much candy especially as his love for salt water taffy is unrivaled. Most of the stores were holding demonstrations and handing out free samples. So Lena got to try her very first taste and it’s safe to say she is just as obsessed as her Daddy. Apparently, it takes a lot of concentration. She was also enthralled by the falling candy and plethora of options. It took awhile to drag these two out of the store.

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After another quick run up and down the River Walk and some portraits as requested by my little model, we hit the road en route for GeeGee and Mimi’s house. And please excuse the giant scab on Lena’s forehead. A few days prior, she had an incident at the playground involving her face and a swing. Jason was on duty as I was getting a pedicure so I take no responsibility for any future facial scars. Ah, memories.

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Answered Prayers

27 May

One of my life-goals is to live on a giant compound with our best friends, raise our kids together, and maybe even become sister wives. Actually, scratch that last part. I’m way too lazy to do my own housework let alone help someone else with theirs. But the rest of the goal is real and luckily, the Carlsson’s are on board with it. However, up until recently, only part of this plan seemed like a reality. Since the moment we met them, it was apparent that Dustin and Melissa were meant to be parents. They are adored by their nieces and nephews, they spoil and love Lena is if she were their own, and they are just all around good, honest people who I consider to be my life role models in addition to best friends. But despite years of trying and numerous doctors appointments, nothing seemed to be happening in the pregnancy department. So we prayed. And we prayed. And we prayed some more. Every night, Lena would ask God to put a baby in Aunt Melissa’s tummy and every night, I would almost cry at the sweetness of it. Finally, they decided to just take a break from all the hormones and planning and everything else that goes into fertility issues before moving on to the more invasive procedures.

It was a warm summer evening and we were having dinner in the back garden with some friends when Melissa asked me to call her. We’re both text people (enter our tendency for laziness again) so I knew it had to be something important. As soon as she picked up, she blurted out that she was pregnant. I’m sure I gave everyone in our entire village a heart attack with my excessive screaming but I won’t apologize. There was jumping, dancing, and ridiculously uncoordinated dance moves performed at the reception of such exciting news. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for someone in my entire life. Our prayers had been answered and we were one step closer to compound-living!

We continued to pray for a healthy pregnancy and I may or may not have requested a baby boy who would become Lena’s future spouse. Melissa sent me pictures of herself eating everything from pickles to pork skins while I bombarded her with all my crunchy parenting ideas. We were overdue for a trip to visit Jason’s dad and were lucky that it coincided with Melissa’s due date. We were all set to leave on a Monday when early Saturday morning, Dustin let us know they were at the hospital in early labor. I had really wanted to be there for the labor and delivery but in the end, it all worked out. Melissa was a beast enduring 27 hours of labor including draining an entire bag of pitocin, an epidural, and ultimately, a C-section. In other words, don’t mess with that Mama Bear. Benjamin August Carlsson was delivered early on a Sunday morning to a very happy and relieved mom and dad.

The next night, we touched down in Raleigh, dropped Lena off with Dustin’s parents and headed straight to the hospital. I don’t think I made it through the doorway before I lost it. To see a physical answer to so many years of prayer was surreal. And just as we knew they would all along, Dustin and Melissa slipped into the role of parents without missing a beat. Benjamin was a breastfeeding champ, Dustin was on diaper duty and Melissa seemed like she had been doing this job for years and was completely unfazed. She may claim that was from the painkillers but I beg to differ. All of us were a bit delirious between the marathon of labor and jet lag but the high of meeting this little miracle drowned all that out.

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The next day, we were back to introduce Lena to her future spouse. She had been praying for “Benny in the tummy” for the past nine months so explaining to her that he was now out of the tummy seemed a bit confusing. She wanted to hold him by herself and thought it was hilarious when he would move or make a sound. Her interest didn’t last long so Jason ended up taking her home while I stuck around to take some photos before we got the final okay to leave the hospital. Dustin is normally the most laid-back person in the world but the five minute drive from the hospital to the house proved almost too much. I have never seen him stressed and while I shouldn’t laugh, it was hysterical to see him in such a state. Welcome to parenthood, Ducky!

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For the next several days, I basically just took pictures non-stop in between sniffing that sweet new baby smell and trying to remember that I needed to share Ben with the rest of his family. It was really hard for me not to want to hold him, change him and offer up advice for every little cry because I love that kid like he’s my own flesh and blood. Remembering the intense thirst and hunger that comes with breastfeeding a newborn, Jason and I tried to make sure there was plenty of food on hand (I even attempted to cook breakfast once) and that Melissa’s water bottle was always filled. Lena did an impeccable job of wearing out the three giant dogs who we previously thought could not get tired. Apparently, 2 and a half year olds have boundless energy.

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The grandparents were also a regular fixture doing what grandparents do best – cuddling, cleaning and cooking. Melissa’s mom made a full Thanksgiving meal which got demolished in a day while Dustin’s mom made the most delicious pan of brownies I’ve ever eaten. I ate half the pan myself so I can assure you, they were good.

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It’s hard to believe that after such a long time of waiting, hoping and praying, this little guy is finally here. I knew we would love him and be excited to meet him but I didn’t anticipate it being such a strong bond. I think you would be hard pressed to find another baby who has been born into the amount of love that Benjamin was born into. From his parents, to his immediate relatives, friends and beyond, people have been praying for this child long before he was ever even a reality. I can’t wait to watch him grow and see the incredible life he leads. And I am absolutely thrilled to be on this journey of parenthood with his parents. Dustin and Melissa, we know you will shine at this job just like you do with everything else. We’re here to laugh with you, cry with you and remind you that it’s okay to want to strangle your child at times but not to actually act upon it. We love you guys like family and can’t wait for the day when our little village of hooligans becomes a reality. Wahoooooo!!! You are finally parents – let the fun begin!

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